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Mary Mastroeni

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How Stocked is Your Home Hurricane Kit?

June 10, 2017 12:36 am

Weathering hurricane season is no fair-weather fun. From dragging the lawn furniture inside to stocking up on non-perishables, it’s important to be ready for high winds and power outages. According to Mercury Insurance, stocking a hurricane kit is another key safety solution for hurricane season.  

The company suggests you keep the following items handy:

- A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person), non-perishable food items and pet food, if applicable;
- A battery-powered or hand-crank radio (and extra batteries);
- A flashlight;
- A first aid kit;
- A whistle to signal for help;
- A can opener;
- Blankets;
- Pliers or a wrench to turn off utilities;
- $200 in cash in small bills, as power may be out, making ATMs, debit and credit cards unusable; andPrescriptions for you and your pets.

Source:  Mercury Insurance

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Closing Cost Primer: Know Your Terms

June 9, 2017 5:57 pm

Buying a home is undoubtedly one of the most expensive ventures of your lifetime. But it’s important to understand that much more goes into budgeting for a new home than the price of the house itself—like closing costs.

Closing costs are fees charged by the lender at the closing of your real estate transaction, and usually amount to thousands of dollars. Your real estate agent can explain and estimate what all of your particular closing costs will be, as they vary by state, but here is a handy list of terms and definitions from Bankrate.com to help bring you up to speed. Real estate lingo can be confusing, so becoming familiar with these terms in advance will help demystify the closing process.

Origination, broker, lender or originator: A fee charged to create a home loan. It's often a set percentage of the mortgage amount.

Discount points: A fee in the form of mortgage interest paid upfront. In exchange for this fee, the lender reduces the interest rate. One point is equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.

Appraisal: A fee that is passed on to a company that renders an opinion about the real value of the home, independent of its listing or negotiated price. That value is then compared against what the borrower has agreed to pay.

Credit report: A fee charged to order a history of your financial life. It includes details about your behavior as a bill payer, the amount of debt you owe, your available credit and any inquiries that companies make to obtain this information, such as your mortgage lender. A good credit report means better loan terms.

Tax service: A fee to cover the cost of hiring a company to verify the amount of real estate taxes due and making sure they're paid.

Flood certification: A fee that covers the assessment of whether a property is in a flood zone. If it is, the new homeowner must buy a flood insurance policy.

Title services: Charges for administrative costs (such as title search) associated with the delivery of title insurance, as well as the services provided by a title or escrow agent.

Title insurance: A policy that guarantees that an owner has the title to a property and can legally transfer it to someone else. Should a problem arise, the title insurer pays any legal damages. A policy may protect the mortgage lender, the homebuyer, or both.

Attorney, closing or settlement: The amount paid to an attorney for witnessing the mortgage loan transaction.
Document preparation: A fee a lender charges to a borrower for producing the documents signed at the closing table.

Inspections (pest, etc.): A fee paid to a certified person who searches the dwelling for termites and other destructive creatures.

Postal/courier: This fee covers what it costs a lender to send paperwork to the other entities involved in the mortgage transaction.

Survey: A fee charged to hire a licensed surveyor to get an accurate measurement of the property and its boundaries.

Wire transfer fee: The amount charged to transfer funds needed to close on a home loan.

Contact me today for more valuable real estate information.

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What Tax Reform Could Mean for Homeowners

June 9, 2017 5:57 pm

There is so much information swirling out of Washington, D.C., these days, it’s hard for the average person to keep up, let alone determine how they will be affected by various changes to legislation. When it comes to tax reform, however, it’s important to get a handle on how proposed changes will impact your wallet—especially for homeowners.

According to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), tax reform proposals may actually mean a tax increase for many middle-income homeowners. According to the study, “Impact of Tax Reform Options on Owner-Occupied Housing,” homeowners with adjusted gross incomes between $50,000 and $200,000 would see their taxes rise by an average of $815. The study also estimates that combined tax savings from claiming the mortgage interest deduction and real estate property tax deductions would drop 82 percent between the 2018 and 2027 period.

The study, which was commissioned by NAR and prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), estimates that this tax increase would result from the interaction of several provisions in the reforms under consideration. For many homeowners that currently benefit from the mortgage interest deduction, the elimination of other itemized deductions and personal exemptions would cause their taxes to rise, even if they elected to take the increased standard deduction. For others, the elimination of the state and local tax deduction alone would result in higher federal income taxes.

In addition to increasing taxes on many middle-income homeowners, the report finds that such a proposal could cause home values to fall by an average of more than 10 percent in the near term. In areas with higher property taxes or state income taxes, the drop could be even greater. Although the study doesn’t directly analyze the “Better Way for Tax Reform” plan or the recent White House outline, it examines a proposal with many similar elements.

Those elements include lowering and consolidating marginal tax rates to only three rates, setting a top income tax rate of 33 percent, doubling the standard deduction, eliminating all itemized deductions (other than charitable contributions and mortgage interest) and personal exemptions, eliminating the alternative minimum tax, and capping the tax rate on pass-through business income at 25 percent.

PwC estimated that roughly 35 million households will claim the mortgage interest deduction in 2018, three quarters of which have incomes between $50,000 and $200,000. According to NAR, roughly 70 percent of those eligible for the mortgage interest deduction claim it in a given tax year.

Once tax reform is finalized and passed into law, be sure to consult with your accountant before filing your taxes to ensure you’re taking the proper deductions.

For even more valuable real estate information, contact me today.

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Patio Panic: From Frustrating to Fab in 1 Hour

June 9, 2017 5:57 pm

Whether it’s an intimate al fresco dinner date or a backyard bash, there’s nothing quite like outdoor entertaining. But if your patio is in sore shape, you might be tempted to relegate guests to the inside. Don’t be intimidated by your patio’s disarray and miss the opportunity to take the party outside. With these quick tips, your outdoor space can be entertainment-worthy in less than an hour.
  1. Task the trimmers. Give the branches, grasses and shrubs surrounding your patio a nice, neat haircut before guests arrive. Not only will this make the area look manicured and orderly, it will make your patio feel more spacious.
  2. Fire up the leaf blower. Who said these wonderful tools are just for leaves? A quick trip around your patio with the leaf blower will remove the trimmings you just cut, along with other dirt and debris, in seconds.
  3. Freshen up the furniture. After you’ve gotten dust and leaves off the furniture with the leaf blower, use a big sponge or mop to wash down your tables and chairs with a quick solution of liquid dish detergent and water, then hose it all down. Flip cushions to the reverse side.
  4. Work some magic. Nothing turns your outdoor space from ordinary to spectacular faster than a little outdoor lighting. Think tiki torches, large candles in hurricane lamps, string lights and solar lanterns.
  5. Finagle some florals. You don’t have to find time to run to the florist. Quickly clip an assortment of flowers, grasses, pine boughs and even bare branches from around your yard to make stunning and natural arrangements. Gather them in mason jars, tin cans (labels peeled off, please) or painted buckets for a homey look, or raise the bar by bringing some of your indoor crystal vases outside.
  6. Rearrange the furniture. Help the flow of the party by strategically placing chairs and tables in spots where you want people to gather. Set up the bar in its own area and place nibbles on a variety of resting spots so everyone doesn’t clutter around one food area. This will not only add visual appeal, but help steer the flow, encourage conversation and show off your patio’s best features. 
For more real estate tips, contact me today.

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For Millennial Parents, Finances Weigh Heavily

June 9, 2017 5:57 pm

Not all millennials are the free-spirited, independent go-getters we imagine them to be. Some of them are parents with real-world concerns, such as finances. In fact, according to a study from Microban in conjunction with Turner Research Network, 64 percent of millennials surveyed cited finances and money as their No. 1 worry, and 92 percent of the millennial parents surveyed agreed that being financially secure was a significant concern.

The online survey of more than 1,000 U.S. millennial parents revealed that the group is not only concerned about being able to provide what their family wants and needs, but job stability as well. Fifty-six percent said financial security, including having more money, a better job or a job that pays better, and a new house or place to live, were things they wish they could change.

Like many in today’s frenetic culture, 75 percent of millennial parents are also concerned about not having enough time to do the things they’d like to do, such as spending more time with their family, friends, spouse or partner, hobbies, exercise or home improvement projects. When millennial parents do manage to secure some free time, chores take a back seat—74 percent report being worried about keeping a clean house.

Is financial freedom out of reach for millennial parents? Not at all. Here are some ways to create a more comfortable future:
  • Commit to paying down debt, starting with your highest interest-rate credit cards. Strive to make more than the minimum payment each month.
  • Pay yourself first by putting a set amount into your savings from every paycheck.
  • Set a household budget and stick to it. Tracking your expenses each month will reveal where you can cut back and save.
  • Start a retirement account. It’s never too early to do so, even if you can only contribute a small amount to start.
  • Consider a side gig. While you don’t want to spend even more time working, put your passion to good use with freelance or contract work. Then devote all of those earnings to your savings. 
Interested in real estate tips? Contact me today for more information.

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Before You Kick Back, Make Sure Your Home Is Summer-Ready

June 9, 2017 5:57 pm

Summer allows us to slow down, stop and smell the roses and take a break from the rapid pace we usually run during the rest of the year. But before you hit the hammock and fire up the grill, take a look around your home. There are a few important maintenance checks that need to be made first.
According to Travelers Insurance, it’s important to take care of any damage that might have been caused during the winter months as soon as possible, before they become more daunting and more costly projects. Conduct an inspection both inside and outside your home and look for the following:
  • Doors and windows. Make sure locks are functioning properly and check your window screens for any holes. Go outside and check window and door frames for any evidence of damage.
  • Electrical outlets and cords. Look for any fire hazards such as frayed wires or ill-fitting plugs.
  • The plumbing. Look for leaks or problems with the float valve in your toilet and check all of its pipe connections. This is also a good time to check washing machine hoses, replacing any that show signs of wear and tear.
  • The furnace. Clean or replace your furnace filter, your dryer vent and the space under your dryer, all of which can present fire hazards.
  • Outdoor wooden structures. The wet weather of winter and spring can take a toll on steps, decks and playground equipment, so look carefully for rot, deterioration and protruding nails.
  • The roof. While there may not be any visible damage to your roof, it’s a good idea to have a professional inspector check for any potential leaks.
  • The perimeter. Take a stroll around your entire home and look closely for any other signs of damage, especially to gutters, shingles, trees and the foundation. 
Now that you know your home is safe and sound, head over to that lounge chair and start soaking in the summer.

Contact me today for more real estate tips and information.

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In this Edition: Get Your Home in Shape for Summer

June 9, 2017 5:57 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters examines simple ways to ensure your home is ready for the upcoming summer season. Other topics covered this month include quick tips to transform your patio and important real estate lingo you should know before you get to the closing table. 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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How to Tackle Family Tension When it Comes to Alzheimer's Disease

June 9, 2017 12:36 am

Alzheimer’s disease impacts an estimated 5.5 million Americans today. But when it comes to the family members impacted by the disease, that number bounces to 15 million. This includes partners, children, and other extended family who are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

New findings from an Alzheimer's Association survey show that people greatly fear becoming a burden to their caregivers as they age. Despite this, many have not planned accordingly, and this (when combined with the stress of an Alzheimer's diagnosis) can be overwhelming for caretakers.  and the stress of caregiving – especially alone–can be extremely overwhelming.  

The Alzheimer's Association offers various tips for families of Alzheimer’s patients.

Lend an ear. Dealing with a progressive disease such as Alzheimer's can be stressful — and not everyone reacts the same way. Give each family member an opportunity to share their opinion. Avoid blaming or attacking each other, as this will only cause more hurt.

Divide and conquer. Make a list of responsibilities and address how much time, money and effort may be involved. Divide tasks according to family members' preferences and abilities. The Alzheimer's Association online Care Team Calendar can help you coordinate.

Talk it out. Discuss if current methods of care are working and if the needs of the person with Alzheimer's are being met; make modifications as needed. Plan for the challenges you can anticipate as the disease progresses.

Stick together. Support family members and connect with others who are dealing with similar situations.  

Seek outside support. Sometimes, an outside perspective can help the entire family take a step back and work through difficult issues. The Alzheimer's Association 24/7 multi-lingual Helpline (800.272.3900) is staffed with care consultants who can help anytime, day or night.

Source: The Alzheimer's Association

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Tips for Exercising in Warm Weather

June 9, 2017 12:36 am

Whether you’re a cycling junkie or a road runner, if you exercise outdoors, warmer weather will likely impact your summer fitness schedule. But when it comes to adjusting your workout for summer, you should do more than switch from pants to shorts. As summer draws near, people exercising outdoors – from newcomers to top athletes – should make adjustments or their workouts could suffer, says Marni Sumbal, a prominent exercise physiologist and board-certified sports dietitian.

Here are 5 of Sumbal's suggestions to train smart in hot weather:

Reduce the intensity, stay inside or work out during off-peak hours. For the first month of hot weather, scale back until your body adjusts to the heat. Pushing too hard too soon can lead to fatigue or injuries.

If you don't want to reduce the intensity, work out either early in the morning or later in the evening, when the sun is down. You can also spend at least part of the workout indoors.

Hydrate. You will sweat more in the summer, which can cause headaches, nausea or fatigue. During a 60-minute workout, drink 20 to 28 ounces of either water or a sports drink. Sports drinks can be especially helpful because they contain carbohydrates (Sumbal recommends consuming at least 30 to 60 grams) as well as electrolytes (consume at least 400 milligrams of sodium). Afterward, she suggests either tart cherry juice to help with inflammation or orange juice that quenches thirst and contains potassium.

Warm up. Do some dynamic stretches (movements while stretching) to activate the muscles, increase the blood flow and to get full range of motion.

Cool down. Take a cold bath (not ice) or a put a cold rag around your neck to reduce the body's temperature. This helps you recover quicker by lowering your heart rate and increasing your appetite.

Soak in Epsom salt. This repairs muscle damage and offsets delayed inflammation. About an hour after the cold shower, add 2 cups of Epsom salt to a lukewarm bath.

"We really want to make sure the magnesium is absorbed, so soak for 20 to 40 minutes," Sumbal says.

If a bath isn't an option, she recommends scrubbing Epsom salt into your skin during a shower.

Source: TriMarni Coaching and Nutrition

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How to Choose a New Air Conditioner

June 9, 2017 12:36 am

Looking for a new AC unit to cool those long summer days? There may be more involved than you think. Selecting the right air conditioner for your home requires an understanding of more than just price range. You also need to think about the unit’s power use, the size of the space it will be cooling, and more.  

Follow these steps from The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers to choose the AC that's best for you:

Check your measurements: Figure out how much cooling power you need by determining the square footage of your room. Measure your window as well and take the measurements with you when you shop. Both portable and room air conditioners need to be connected to a window, and it's important to make sure it will fit before you bring your new AC unit home. Finally, if you're buying a portable air conditioner, consider whether the size of the unit is appropriate for the room.

Choose your capacity: Air conditioner capacity is measured in BTU (British thermal units). Check the unit labeling as you shop. You'll likely see a chart with BTU and the appropriate room size for cooling. Choose a size appropriate for the room or rooms you'll be cooling.  If you are placing the unit in a kitchen, sunny room, or room with high ceilings, you may need to size up.  Some manufacturers may also have capacity information available on its website.

Frigid features: Smart technology is being incorporated into portable air conditioners. Some units can be turned on or off via smartphone or tablet, so you can come home to a cooler space on a hot summer day. Others offer a "follow-me" function that measures the temperature both at the location of the unit and of the remote control. If you're sitting across the room from the unit and holding the remote control, the unit will take the temperature in the remote into account and adjust its output based on both temperatures. Other features you might find are programmable timers and alerts that tell you when the AC filter needs to be changed.

Source: AHAM,  www.aham.org.

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