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Mary Mastroeni

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Buying New Construction

November 18, 2014 4:07 pm

Searching for a home can be a frustrating process. You might love the kitchen but hate the bathroom. The master bedroom might not have the walk-in closets you desire, or maybe you were hoping to install a home theater room, but none of the rooms in the houses you’re looking at have enough space.

If you find yourself running into these types of problems, it may make sense to purchase a newly constructed home, or one that you can help shape so that in the end, everything is just the way you like it. Your real estate agent can help you find your dream home if you let him or her know upfront that you’re willing to consider buying new.

While not all new construction provides buyers with the opportunity to help with the planning—it depends on the development, how far along things are and other factors—more often than not, the buyer does have a say. So that state-of-the-art kitchen or aforementioned theater room can become a reality. When purchasing new construction, buyers also get to have a say when it comes to the types of appliances that are installed, the materials used (tiles, fixtures and finishes) and even the paint colors.

In some cases, house hunters will first explore a model home to get a sense of what the new home will look like. But keep in mind that things in the spec house aren’t always carried over automatically. Model homes normally contain all the upgrades and bells and whistles, so it’s important to talk with the builder and your agent to understand exactly what your newly constructed home will and won’t contain. The last thing you want is to not have your dream house because you forgot to ask for it.

When buying a home of this kind, it’s vital that you get some sort of warranty, the same way you would when buying a new car. Since the home has never been lived in before, you have no way of knowing if the basement fills with water on rainy days or if things were built properly. Having a warranty (usually available for one year) will give you peace of mind when moving in.

And just like you would do when buying any home, an inspection is still an important part of buying a newly constructed house. Not only will an inspector be able to ensure that things are up to code, they’ll also check to see that no damage occurred during the build.

Newly constructed homes typically cost more than “used” homes, but there aren’t usually any problems with appraisals, and you can also take part in creating the home of your dreams.

For more information about newly constructed homes, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Living in a Staged Home: Simple Tips to Keep It in Tip-Top Shape

November 18, 2014 4:07 pm

In today’s competitive market, many sellers are pulling out all the stops when it comes to positioning their home above the competition. Not only are they upgrading certain areas and amping up the curb appeal, many are hiring stagers to come in and rearrange their home so that it’s in tip-top shape.

While the new arrangement put in place by the stager was conceived to attract buyers to your home, it can be difficult for sellers to adapt, especially if they continue to live in the house months after a home is originally staged.

Not only do sellers need to get used to the new furniture and décor, they must also try to keep their home looking at its best and in the staged light. That means no rearranging things or coming in the door and leaving your stuff on the counter, keeping the drapes closed or moving furniture to different rooms. To give your home the best shot at selling, you need to keep the space as close to its initial staged look as possible for any buyers who may be coming by to see.

One of the easiest ways to live in a staged home is to declare some rooms off-limits to the family. That extra bedroom probably doesn’t need to be slept in, and unless you have a big get-together, plan to eat your meals at the kitchen table so that the staged place settings can be left intact in the dining room. If you have multiple bathrooms, try to keep people out of one if possible. In the end, the less people you have going in and out of these rooms the better, since you’ll have less to do when it’s time to show the property again.

While living in a staged home may be stressful, it’s also a great time to start packing. If your stager had you put things in the garage, or out of site somewhere else, start packing them up now. Go through your closets as well and pack up any clothes you won’t be needing this season. You may also want to get a cheap storage unit so you have a place for anything that’s being packed ahead of your home selling.

To be sure you’re presenting your home in its best light each and every time, consider taking pictures of the rooms within your home as soon as they are staged so you know exactly how they’re supposed to look. If you move a pillow off a couch or have added items to the bathroom counters, be sure to take the time to change the appearance of the room back to the way it looked in the picture.

And when a showing comes up, have a plan in place so that everyone knows what they need to do to get the home back in picture perfect shape.

Living in a staged home isn’t easy—you almost have to think of it as staying in someone else’s home for a while—but with a plan in place and some attention to detail, you can successfully live in the space until it sells.

For more information about staging, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Ways to Improve Your Kitchen Before Listing Your Home

November 18, 2014 4:07 pm

If you’re like most homeowners, you undoubtedly have a wish list full of home renovations in the back of your mind at any given moment. But for those looking to sell, real estate professionals across the board agree that if you’re going to invest money into your home prior to a move, the safest investment with the most return on your money will come from renovating the kitchen.

More than just a central gathering spot for families and friends, the kitchen is typically one of the first areas house hunters ask about. In addition, when it comes to looking at listings on real estate websites, kitchen photos are viewed more often than photos showcasing other areas throughout the home.

After all, families spend more time in the kitchen than any other room in the house, be it sharing a meal, talking about the events of the day, doing homework or baking for a special occasion. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the kitchen is considered the heart of the home. And people often use their hearts to make buying decisions.

Most real estate professionals will tell you that investing in your kitchen can help your home sell faster and at a better price. While this may be true, you don’t need to make major upgrades to give your kitchen a facelift. In fact, just making the space more visually appealing to potential buyers is enough.

Here are five easy ways to improve your kitchen before putting your home on the market:

1. Add Energy Star Appliances. Today’s green-conscious homeowners demand top-quality kitchen appliances with style and efficiency, and investing in new appliances may be the best thing one can do before selling a home. By replacing your old appliances with Energy Star ones, you’re letting the buyer know that you have put thought into adding sustainable elements into the home design. Plus, nothing turns off a potential buyer quicker than seeing old, dingy appliances.

2. Replace Your Backsplash. Adding a bright, colorful backsplash is an eye-catching way to ensure that potential buyers remember your kitchen. Not only does a strong backsplash protect your kitchen walls from water, oil and other elements, it’s also a great look that can be incorporated into any kitchen. Regardless of your kitchen’s style, a backsplash will accentuate whatever look you’re aiming for.

3. Restore Cabinetry. Cabinets that have fading paint or broken handles are going to scare people away, so at the very least, be sure to repaint any cabinets that are in bad shape. And don’t forget to replace any broken fixtures. If necessary, hire a cabinet-improving company to resurface or reface your cabinets. If you decide to go big and replace everything, think about adding pullout drawers, a lazy Susan in corner units and adjustable shelves. Not only will this improve the functionality of the kitchen, it’ll also go a long way toward keeping things better organized.

4. Add Furniture. Kitchen remodeling doesn’t have to stop at the cabinets and appliances. Think outside the box and add new furniture to the mix. Whether it’s a breakfast nook, tables and chairs, island carts, or bar stools, adding furniture to the space will help create a welcoming feel for those coming to view the home.

5. Improve the Lighting. Don’t rely on the dingy overhead light—or even the small light from the microwave—to brighten up the space. By adding lighting to key areas of the kitchen, you can attract buyers who love to cook or entertain. Be sure to have plenty of lighting above the stove, sink, island and family dinner table.

For more information about kitchen renovations, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Unique Focal Points Help Homes Stand Out Among Prospective Buyers

November 18, 2014 4:07 pm

One tactic real estate professionals have long touted when working to prepare a client’s home for sale is the process of removing clutter, personal photos and knickknacks to give the impression that the home doesn’t belong to someone else. This way, when a prospective buyer comes to view the space, they can better envision their life in it. After all, if they see photos of you and your family everywhere they look, they may feel as if they’re imposing, which can lead to them not taking your home seriously.

The problem with removing everything, though, is that you risk eliminating the home’s character. In addition, you don’t provide house hunters with a way to remember your home. That’s why more real estate professionals are changing their tune today, advising sellers to leave something memorable.

For example, if a seller leaves a shelf with his or her prized Pez collection in the office, it’s bound to be remembered by prospective buyers as “the Pez house” when they go to discuss the houses they saw at the end of the day. The same can be said of a home with a pinball machine or a collection of snow globes in the basement. By keeping these unique items in the space, they become a focal point that people remember.

This could be important when it comes to getting your home sold, as unique items will help your home stand out among the competition. More often than not, prospective buyers will compare notes with their loved ones about the various homes they’ve seen, remembering little things from each, sometimes mixing up the bathroom they saw in one house with the landscaped yard they saw in another.

Odds are, by having a focal point item that gives your house a Seinfeld-esque name, like “the pinball machine house,” “the pinball house” or “the snow globe house,” you allow your house to stand out a little more. This will go a long way toward keeping your home on a buyer’s mind long after they’ve seen it.

While taking the character of your home—and the possessions you’ve collected—into account when creating a memorable experience for prospective buyers, remember that you don’t want to overdo it. Keep it simple and make a lasting impression by incorporating a unique piece in one ancillary room like a basement, office or family room.

To learn more about showcasing your home so that it stands out from the competition, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: New Construction

November 18, 2014 4:07 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters, brought to you through our company's membership in RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN), examines how sellers can create a memorable experience for prospective buyers by taking advantage of unique focal points. Other topics covered this month include simple ways to improve your kitchen before listing your home and how to keep your staged home in 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.


How to Get the Most from Your Insurance Dollars

November 18, 2014 3:40 am

When it comes to filing an insurance claim, knowledge is power.

“The best time to learn about the claims process is before you have a loss,” notes Jeanne M. Salvatore, the Insurance Information Institute’s (I.I.I.) chief communications officer. “Knowing what to do can make filing a claim less stressful if you have a loss.”

The I.I.I. recommends the following steps when filing an insurance claim:

Contact your insurance agent or company as soon as possible, either by phone or online.
When speaking to your insurer, have your policy number (if you have it), location of the incident, extent of the damage, cell phone number or other contact information. Ask them these specific questions: Is the damage covered? How long do I have to file the claim? Does the claim exceed the deductible? How long will it take to process the claim? Will an estimate be needed?

Document the loss.
Create a file for your claim—the better organized you are the simpler and easier the entire process will be. Take pictures of the loss and write up a summary of exactly what happened. Keep lists of any damage and write down the names and contact information of anyone involved in the claim. This includes the name and title of everyone you speak to at your insurance agency and/or company.

Submit the claim.
Once you have notified your insurance company, you will be told what information you will need to supply to them. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask them. Your claims representative is there to help you. Keep copies of all forms and any information or materials you provide to your insurance company. The company will likely send an adjuster to inspect the damage and help settle the claim. There is no charge for this service.

You may also be contacted by public adjusters who have no relationship with your insurance company. Public adjusters charge a fee for their services—as much as 15 percent of the total value of your claim settlement. Keep in mind that they can’t get more money for you than what is stated in your policy.

Know who to contact if you are not satisfied with your settlement.
Most consumers find that their claim is paid quickly, easily and fairly. If you are not satisfied with how your claim is being settled, talk to your agent or claims representative. Tell them about your problem and ask them to intercede on your behalf. If you are still not happy with the results, contact the head of the claims department or another person in authority at your insurance company. Send them a written note explaining why you are not satisfied and back your complaint up with facts, figures and any pertinent documents.

If you cannot come to an agreement with your insurance company, you may consider contacting your state department of insurance. Explain the reason for the disagreement so that the department can investigate your claim and help resolve any difference you may have with your insurer.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


8 Ways to Avoid Debt from Holiday Expenses

November 18, 2014 3:40 am

Many people are entering the largest shopping season of the year financially ill-prepared. For some, the ghosts of Christmases past are still haunting them in the form of unmanageable credit card debt. For others, finding $800, the amount the National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend during the holidays this year, is seemingly beyond their reach.

“For the many Americans who struggle to meet daily living expenses, the thought of the holidays approaching brings anxiety instead of joy,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling®. “The pressure to purchase can be overwhelming, causing even the most well-intentioned to take on additional debt.”

To help consumers avoid creating debt, the NFCC recommends:
  • Taking advantage of seasonal hiring by finding a second job doing something enjoyable, and earmark each paycheck for holiday spending. Even a 20-hour-per-week job can net hundreds of dollars by year-end. It may not sound appealing to take on a second job, but remember that debt is its own burden.
  • This is the perfect time of the year to sell unwanted items. Scour the house for things that are no longer needed or used. Sell them locally or online and reap the benefits of having rid the house of clutter while generating extra money.
  • Look for free ways to buy. Now may be the time to use any gift cards that have been saved. Check out how many reward points have been earned through credit cards. To maximize the points, evaluate making purchases through the card’s online partners. If using a cash-back card, consider redeeming the money available.
  • Cut back on expenses. This may seem like an odd suggestion during the largest spending season of the year. However, the fact is that there’s a finite amount of money available, thus when spending in some categories increases, it means that spending in others will have to decrease. Make a conscious decision where to temporarily eliminate or reduce spending to make money available for holiday purchases.
  • Consider re-gifting. Re-gifting has an undeserved bad image, but when looking at the facts, it actually makes sense. A perfectly good item that isn’t liked or used benefits no one sitting in a closet gathering dust. It could be just the gift someone else has been hoping for.
  • Instead of purchasing gifts, give the gift of self. Donate your time in another person’s name to a charity and send cards to those on your gift list letting them know of this contribution. It will likely be appreciated and remembered much longer than any store-bought present. As an added bonus, it may inspire them to do the same.
  • To free up money for other expenses, when entertaining have a potluck dinner instead of assuming the cost of the entire meal; when traveling, stay with friends or family instead of a hotel; consider buying a gift for the entire family instead of individual presents.
  • If forced to charge expenses, put all holiday spending on one credit card, and commit to repaying that debt in the first quarter of the New Year. Doing this will not only avoid paying excessive interest on the debt, but will prevent the holiday spending from being co-mingled with existing debt, and allow a more comprehensive picture of the spending.
Source: NFCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Prevent Home Burglaries This Holiday

November 18, 2014 3:40 am

(BPT) – Not many people associate crime with the holidays, but unfortunately, burglary incidents increase this time of year. With a few simple safety precautions, you can protect your property, your family and your valuables now and well into the New Year.

1. Tone down décor and hide gifts – When it comes to holiday decorations, modesty is definitely the best policy. Expensive decorations on display can be a signal that there are valuables inside your home worth a criminal's time. Gifts under a tree standing near a window are a welcome invitation for thieves. Leave gifts tucked away until the last possible minute. If you must display presents, make sure they are out of sight from any windows or doorways.

2. Lock all windows and doors –Whether you are home, running errands or away on vacation, take care to close and lock all doors and windows. Remember to set alarms, too. A simple dowel placed in a sliding glass door or window can be an inexpensive way to secure vulnerable entrance points.

3. Keep your yard maintained – A well-lit and well-groomed home provides an important measure of safety. USAA, a leading provider of banking, insurance and investment services to the military community, recommends the 3 foot/6 foot rule: trim branches to 6 feet off the ground and shrubs down to 3 feet to minimize hiding places for burglars.

4. Dispose of boxes carefully – It’s best not to alert strangers to the new 70-inch flat screen in your home by leaving the box on the curb for refuse pickup. When it comes to big-ticket items and valuables, boxes on the curb are a sure sign to criminals that there’s something expensive in your home. Break down boxes and recycle them.

5. Travel smart
– Be proactive about home safety if you have holiday travel plans. Never let mail or newspapers pile up at your home, as it is an instant indicator you are not there. Have a neighbor collect mail and newspapers or have your service stopped by calling the post office and newspaper provider. If possible, have a neighbor park their car in your driveway intermittently to keep up the appearance that someone is coming and going.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Three Steps to a Worry-Free Thanksgiving

November 17, 2014 3:43 am

Thanksgiving is upon us and that means gathering family and friends for turkey and trimmings. For those hosting the big meal, adequate preparation is key to a stress-free holiday. Avoid Thanksgiving trauma and enjoy the day with these three simple tips.

1. Take stock of supplies well in advance. Don’t be caught with chipped glasses, unintentionally mismatched plates or an under-cooked turkey. Evaluate your cooking and serving utensils, dishes, flatware, glassware, and oven well ahead of the holiday. If your oven needs to be replaced, give up hosting duties this year and make alternative arrangements.

2. Schedule everything. Bill Telepan, chef and co-owner of Telepan, a New York City restaurant, suggests drawing up a timeline to stay organized. Include estimates for the time it takes to prepare meals, cook food, plate and serve, and remember to factor in time spent with guests.

3. Serve guests time-tested recipes. Ina Garten, “The Barefoot Contessa,” recommends never serving a new dish on Thanksgiving. If you want to test out a new recipe, experiment on your own, and use only your most successful meals when serving guests.

Source: Lieb Cellars

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Minor Winter Repairs Equal Major Savings

November 17, 2014 3:43 am

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Saver Guide, the typical U.S. family spends at least $2,200 per year on home utility bills, and heating and cooling accounts for the biggest portion – approximately 48 percent. The DOE says that those bills could be reduced by up to 25 percent by taking steps to efficiently manage those systems. Make these minor repairs for major savings this winter:

Cover drafty windows.
Use a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame or tape clear plastic film to the inside of window frames during the cold winter months. Make sure the plastic is sealed tightly to the frame to help reduce infiltration.
Adjust the temperature. When families are home and awake, set the thermostat as low as is comfortable. When asleep or out of the house, turn the thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours and save around 10 percent a year on heating and cooling bills.

Find and seal leaks. Seal the air leaks around utility cut-throughs for pipes (“plumbing penetrations”), gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. Add caulk or weather stripping to seal air leaks around leaky doors and windows.

Maintain heating systems. Schedule a service for the heating system. Find out what maintenance is required to keep the heating system operating efficiently. Replace the furnace filter once a month, or as needed.

Reduce heat loss from the fireplace. Keep the fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning. Keeping the damper open is like keeping a window wide open during the winter; it allows warm air to go right up the chimney.

Depending on time of day, open or close window treatments. Windows can account for 10-25 percent of a heating bill by letting heat out. Opening draperies and shades on south-facing windows during the day allows sunlight to enter the home and keep rooms warm. Conversely, closing window treatments at night reduces the chill.

Source: Appraisal Institute

Published with permission from RISMedia.