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

10 Steps to Secure Social Networking

December 16, 2014 2:54 am

According to a recent survey from Internet security leader Trend Micro, just 38 percent of people know how to limit what they post online, further propelling the concern that heavy social media use can lead to identity theft. Put simply, posting information online can be the gift that keeps on giving.

“Most of us are far too trusting with our personal information online,” says Mark Nunnikhoven, vice president of Cloud and Emerging Technologies at Trend Micro. “We don’t realize how quickly little bits add together to form a startlingly accurate picture of our personal lives. This unintentional disclosure of personal data can have very real consequences.”

To mitigate your risk of leaving a trail for cyber thieves to follow, Trend Micro recommends:
1. Only post updates or photos you won't mind sharing with strangers. What goes online stays online.
2. Keep tabs on all your tags and mentions. Getting tagged in a post might seem harmless, but it can also decrease your privacy.
3. Make sure only your intended audience sees your posts. If your friends have less restrictive settings, it’s possible for others to view your information.
4. Never click on a link posted or sent by someone you don’t know.
5. Use a two-factor authentication for all social media accounts, and activate any other security measures you have access to.
6. Check privacy policies and adjust your settings to your comfort level. Keep track of these policies on an ongoing basis – they change often.
7. Double-check your security. Use privacy scanning software to check current privacy settings in different social networks.
8. Report and block spammers. This can help sanitize your feed as well as notify a social media site to take down the spammers’ accounts.
9. Always verify with your contacts any link they send your way, preferably through another form of correspondence.
10. Be careful whom you accept as a friend on social networks. Identity thieves can and do create fake profiles in order to steal your personal information.
Source: Trend Micro

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Buyers: Evaluate a Home's Exterior

December 16, 2014 2:54 am

(BPT) – Buying a home is one of the most important investments you’ll make for yourself and your family. Before making a purchase, ask yourself these four questions. Determining the answers in advance will allow you to enjoy your new home now and in the years ahead.

1. What exterior style speaks to you? Your home is an extension of your lifestyle and a reflection of your personality. When shopping for a new house, contemplate curb appeal. First impressions matter, so it's important to consider architectural style, exterior color and details like trim and landscaping.

2. Is your home protected from the elements? With the climate ever-changing, extreme weather is a reality in all corners of the country. Look for homes with siding and trim products that protect from hurricanes, blizzards, wind, wildfire and more.

3. Is your new home built using sustainable products? Green building continues to be a growing trend, in part because an energy-efficient home can save you money on heating and cooling bills. By choosing a home clad in 100 percent sustainable and efficient material, you're consuming less energy and reducing your environmental footprint.

4. What maintenance will your new home require? Selecting a home made with low-maintenance building materials can lower the chances of large ticket home repairs in the future. Ensure the materials have a strong warranty to protect your investment.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Four Ways to Reduce Your Water Footprint

December 15, 2014 2:54 am

(BPT) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the average American family uses 300 gallons of water each day for everything from brushing their teeth and washing clothes to running the sprinkler and flushing the toilet. But what about other uses for water?

‘Invisible’ or ‘virtual’ water is hidden in the things you eat, products you use and clothes you wear. According to the Value of Water Coalition, 86 percent of all water used is invisible to most consumers because it's used to produce food, beverages and products. One T-shirt, for example, requires 700 gallons of water to manufacture; one car uses 40,000. Growing a single apple requires 19 gallons of water.

"As consumers, we need to focus on the water we can't see to make an even bigger impact in helping the environment, saving money and conserving the world's most precious resource," says Roman Lis, a principal engineer at MWH Global. "The good news is there are simple steps we can take, starting where we live and work.”

MWH Global recommends these four tips to reduce your invisible water consumption:

1. Add up your daily habits. Find out how much water - real and invisible - you use each day as a starting point to determine the best steps to consider in reducing your consumption. You can log your daily habits into the Water Footprint Calculator at www.waterfootprint.org. Choose the extended water calculator, which tallies the water you use at home and the water that's in the food you eat and products you buy.

2. Make simple switches. Consider substituting products that use more water with others that have a smaller water footprint. For example, drink more tap or filtered water instead of buying bottled water. Find favorite recipes that replace or use less meat. (It takes 1,230 gallons of water to yield one beef steak.) Buy more clothes with artificial fibers instead of cotton which is made with more water.

3. Use water-efficient appliances. T
oilets, dishwashers and washing machines use a significant portion of a household's visible water consumption. When it's time to replace an appliance, do your research. Find out the amount of water an appliance uses from the manufacturer's data and compare various products to identify the ones that have the lowest water consumption. Replacing an old toilet, for example, can reduce the toilet's water consumption by 20 to 60 percent.

4. Choose more sustainable products and practices. It's not always easy to know the water footprint of your favorite products since there aren't any labeling requirements. However, some product labels or websites may note the company's sustainable practices, including water, for acquiring, producing and distributing goods. Try to select products you trust as being made in more environmentally and water-friendly ways. Look for companies that have high sustainability ratings.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Keep Toy Safety in Mind This Holiday

December 15, 2014 2:54 am

Did you know that more than half of the three billion toys and games sold in the U.S. are purchased during the holidays? Though stronger federal regulations and higher toymaker standards exist, a child’s safety is never guaranteed. Bevin Maynard, child advocate at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, notes that appropriate selection and proper use of toys, combined with parental supervision, can greatly reduce the incidence and severity of toy-related injuries.

Maynard suggests:
  • Choose well-made toys suitable to the child’s age, interest and skill level. Contrary to popular belief, age labels are not intended as developmental ratings – they are for safety reasons.
  • Steer clear of toys containing lead paint.
  • When shopping for a child younger than 6-years-old, skip toys with small magnetic pieces.
  • When shopping for a child younger than 8-years-old, forgo electronic toys if they have a heating element, such as a battery or electrical plugs.
  • Avoid toys that produce loud noises. High-volume games can permanently impair a child’s hearing, and loud sounds can frighten a younger child.
  • Do not gift toys with strings, straps or cords longer than 7 inches.
  • Immediately discard plastic wrappings on toys before they become dangerous play things for young children.
  • If giving a ride-able toy, such as a bike or scooter, include a helmet as part of the gift.
Source: St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Household Expenses: Do You Have FORO?

December 15, 2014 2:54 am

A recent National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC) poll reveals that the overwhelming majority of consumers surveyed (92 percent) have a fear of running out of money, or FORO.

Root causes of this fear vary. Sixty-four percent of respondents fear they will not having enough money to pay monthly bills, 14 percent fear not having enough funds to comfortably retire, 11 percent fear having enough for unplanned expenses, and 3 percent fear not being able to finance their children’s education.

Finding stable financial ground today will relieve stress and allow planning for future needs to begin. To get started, the NFCC suggests that consumers put the following five steps in place:

1. Begin saving - People without a well-funded savings account are living on a slippery financial slope, as unplanned expenses are inevitable. When money is tight, saving is often low on the list of priorities. To remedy the situation, consider living on a cash basis – people who pay with cash typically save 20 percent over their previous spending with plastic. Pretend that any raise, bonus, birthday money or other windfall money never happened and instead direct it toward savings. Aim to build up the rainy day fund to equal one month’s salary, as this should be sufficient for most short-term emergencies.

2. Track spending
- A leak can’t be plugged until it has been identified, and finding a financial leak starts with tracking spending. Have everyone in the family who spends money write down their spending for 30 days. It is critical to include incidental spending, as small leaks can add up to be big problems. At the end of the period, have a family council to review the spending, making joint decisions as to how the money should be spent moving forward. Make necessary cuts and allocate the money toward the categories that the family determines are most important. The unity that results from this type of decision-making process will likely produce a greater level of success, as everyone will be moving in the same direction.

3. Create a cash-flow calendar
– This is perhaps the easiest step, but will increase financial awareness. On a calendar devoted to finances, record all sources of income and the associated paydays. Next, note which bills are due to be paid during the various pay cycles. If there’s not enough money available to meet a debt obligation on its due date, call the creditor and find out if the date can be moved. This will prevent overdrafts, late payments and fees.

4. Decrease debt - Debt is expensive. Face the financial facts, write down and total the existing debt and associated interest paid each month. The totals may be shocking, but will hopefully spur action. Ignoring the problem will only make matters worse. If help is needed to create a realistic debt repayment plan, reach out to an NFCC member agency.

5. Set goals - Make a list of short-term goals for the next 12 months. Make a separate list of long-term goals. Now go back and include dates and dollar amounts with each goal and decide which can realistically be met. Goals that aren’t achievable only serve to discourage and potentially derail the entire plan. Knowing the objective, timing and financial commitment necessary to meet the goal will bring a sense of purpose to overall spending decisions.

Source: NFCC

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Healthcare Plans: 3 Questions to Ask

December 12, 2014 2:54 am

Whether dealing with a new plan or a renewal of an existing plan, there are many factors patients should consider before taking action, including deductibles, co-pays and drug costs. Patients should also take into account which physicians and facilities are covered under their health insurance plan, and the cost for receiving treatment out-of-network so that they make informed health care decisions. Additionally, patients should make sure to ask their physicians whether they are participating in plans they are considering.

“We want to make sure Americans choose a plan that is right for them and their families in terms of cost and coverage,” says Robert Wah, MD, president of the American Medical Association (AMA). “It is very important that patients look beyond the big print, color-coded plan designations and prices of insurance plans and check the small print details before making their selections.”

The AMA urges patients to thoroughly review all aspects of the plans they are choosing in order to prevent interruptions in care and higher out-of-pocket costs. Consider the following:

1. Are your family's doctors in the plan? If not, what will you have to pay out-of-pocket for office visits or other services your doctor prescribes? Is the plan's directory of participating physicians up-to-date and accurate? Are there physicians on the list who are still accepting new patients?

2. What does the plan cover? What percentage of your health care costs will you have to cover? If so, how much and can you afford it? How much will you have to pay out-of-pocket for the medicines your family needs? Will you be able to use hospitals, labs and other facilities that are convenient to where you live or work? Does the plan provide access to a sufficient number of specialists that you need?

3. Does your primary care physician have to receive permission from the insurance company to refer you to a specialist? Does that rule include specialists you see regularly for a chronic condition? Does the insurer use penalties or incentives to induce physicians in the plan to limit referrals in any way?

Source: AMA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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First-Time Homebuyers Perplexed by Lending Process

December 12, 2014 2:54 am

First-time homebuyers report challenges with understanding the mortgage process and the options that are available to them, according to the J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Study(SM).

“From describing what will happen during the process in terms a customer can understand to explaining the benefits of different options, loan representatives set the tone of the experience,” says Craig Martin, director of mortgage practice at J.D. Power. “A potential challenge with first-time homebuyers is that they may be afraid to appear uninformed, so they won’t admit when they are confused or don’t understand something. For a lender to truly stand out, their staff must foster relationships that promote open and honest communication.”

The study reveals that first-time homebuyers want a transparent mortgage process; 43 percent of all first-time homebuyers indicate they do not completely understand the process. A lack of experience and uncertainty about the process may influence how they first inquire about a mortgage; 48 percent chose to meet with local lenders in person for advice tailored to their specific situations.

The study also found:
  • The majority (54 percent) of first-time homebuyers indicate they don’t fully understand the different loan options available to them. Just 41 percent reported thorough explanations of the types of loans, terms, special programs, fees and options to reduce their down payments.
  • Consistent communication is another important factor in a positive borrowing experience. Customer satisfaction falls significantly when loan representatives fail to call customers back as promised.
  • The closing experience is often confusing for first-time homebuyers. Forty-four percent indicate that the closing agent did not completely explain all of the closing documents.
While many mortgage customers obtain information and updates online and by using mobile devices, the study shows that the loan representative is still a key part of the equation. Interestingly, some of the most important things lenders can do to deliver a great experience remain heavily reliant on human interaction.

Source: J.D. Power

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Real Estate Transaction Roles Explained

December 12, 2014 2:54 am

Real estate transactions are complex and, at times, confusing. Clients can better understand this course of action by knowing who they’re working with and what role those individuals play. Whether seeking to buy or sell a residential home, expect several parties to be involved in the process. Brokers, agents and attorneys are among the most common:

Depending on whichever unique business model the firm utilizes, brokers typically have the same qualifications as an agent, but their roles are to primarily supervise other agents. Commissions from sales are often paid to the brokerage, then allocated to the agent involved in the transaction.

Agents
are at the forefront of the buying and selling process. Real estate agents work directly with clients to either secure a home at their desired price point and in a coveted location, or to generate buyer interest and ultimately find a new owner for your home. An agent can represent either a buyer or a seller, and both agents frequently communicate.

Once a transaction between a buyer and a seller is under contract, a real estate attorney facilitates a smooth close. The responsibilities of an attorney vary, but some common duties include explanation of the terms of the mortgage, review of purchase agreements and investigation of the backgrounds of properties.

Source: Zillow

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Add a Touch of Elegance to Help Your Home Stand Out Among the Competition

December 11, 2014 5:39 pm

When preparing your home for sale, attracting the attention of prospective buyers is the key to success. While there are various ways to ensure your home stands out above the rest—raking in the most attention—one simple way to add a touch of elegance to your home is through the use of crown molding.

Even though most real estate professionals will tell you that it’s an upgrade that won’t really increase the value of the home, it can separate yours from the competition. If house hunters are comparing yours to a similar home at a similar price, the addition of crown molding might be the difference that puts your home over the top.

When done properly, crown molding can make ceilings look higher, rooms more interesting and give a home a more unique feel. Plus, it can be used in virtually any room in the house and create the “wow” factor that people crave. These little touches of accent can help get a buyer interested.

A recent study by the National Association of Home Builders revealed that 12 percent of homebuyers considered crown molding essential, 51 percent said it was desirable, 32 percent were indifferent and five percent said they didn’t want it.

Crown molding doesn’t just have to be used at the base of a wall either. It can also be used to separate wall and floor, and other types of molding delineate windows, doors, fireplaces and more.

Unless you’re truly handy, don’t attempt to install the crown molding yourself. While it may look simple enough, it takes precise measuring, special tools and a lot of patience. Finding an expert won’t put you out too much money, and you’ll be glad you did when it’s finished.

Once up, a good tip is to paint the crown molding off-white, instead of white. Crown molding will collect dust and the white color will make it look dingy. Also, you should paint it a different color than the ceiling or wall to really have it stand out. Finally, having all crown molding the same color throughout the house will create a unified look, which is welcomed by homebuyers.

For more information about incorporating crown molding into your home, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Energy Efficient Mortgages Offer a Wide Range of Benefits to Homeowners and Buyers Alike

December 11, 2014 5:39 pm

First introduced in five states as a pilot program in 1992, energy efficient mortgages have helped homeowners and buyers save money on utility bills by enabling them to finance the cost of adding energy efficient features to new or existing housing as part of their Federal Housing Association insured home purchase or refinanced mortgage.

The problem is, with all the good they can do, energy efficient mortgages are still vastly underutilized in the 21st century. And it’s a mystery to many why more people aren’t taking advantage of them.

During fiscal year 2013, FHA insured 599 energy-efficient mortgages, totaling $122 million. Those numbers continued a sharp decline in recent years, which is why the program is being reviewed next year to determine if improvements can be made to expand originations as part of the Department’s commitment to energy efficient initiatives.

An energy efficient mortgage is easy to use, federally recognized, and can be applied to most home mortgages. Plus, they’re available whether you’re buying, selling, refinancing or remodeling your home. Sounds like a great thing, right? After all, homeowners with lower utility bills have more money in their pockets each month and can even afford to allocate a larger portion of their income to housing expenses.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have been baffled as to why the numbers continue to decrease. The benefits are easy to recognize.
According to HUD, the money can be used to finance energy improvements to make an older home more efficient, comfortable and affordable, which increases the potential resale of the home.

A laundry list of upgrades includes replacing windows or doors, installing solar technologies or replacing older heating systems, cooling systems and lighting with a more environmentally friendly solution.

For people buying a home who want to take advantage of the program, the FHA requires that you make at least a 3.5 percent cash investment on the property based on the sale price. And all work must begin within 90 days of closing. The total amount of your mortgage is based on the value of your home plus the projected cost of energy-efficient improvements.

Another option is for the lender to allow higher qualifying ratios for borrowers who will occupy a property meeting certain standards for energy efficiency. When the home has been built or retrofitted in conformance with the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) standards for 2000 or later, the lender may “stretch” the borrower’s qualifying ratios.

Benefits derived from an energy efficient mortgage will vary from one house to another. Your lender will be your best source of information on what benefits you may obtain.

To learn more about energy efficient mortgages, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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