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

Why Your Attic Could Be Draining Your Wallet

January 21, 2015 3:00 am

(BPT) - While homeowners may not immediately think of their attic as a major source of energy loss, the fact is, it is responsible for as much as 25 percent of the energy lost in the average American home. Air leakage, caused particularly by the attic, can place a strain on your wallet every month.

The good news is, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the attic is one of the easiest places within the home to address energy loss. There are several smart home renovation investments that homeowners can make to reduce excessive energy loss through the attic.

One of the most effective methods to eliminate air leakage (and live greener!) is insulating your attic with a high-performance solution. Traditional insulation is prone to sagging, which can leave gaps and absorb moisture, causing a significant loss of energy. Replace your home's insulation with a spray foam insulation to both insulate and air seal the entire attic space. According to insulation experts at Icynene, quality spray foam insulation can noticeably reduce heating and cooling costs – by up to 50 percent, in some cases!

And, a growing number of building professionals are recommending spray foam insulation as a valuable, cost-effective solution. Suitable for any climate, spray foam insulation helps retain conditioned air, allowing the heating and cooling equipment to work more efficiently rather than compensating for energy losses through the attic space.

Other solutions to energy loss are to have your home professionally caulked and sealed and to have whole house fans installed. These fans help by pulling air through the house and are particularly effective during warmer months.

You may also want to check if your home is outfitted with a polyolefin plastic house wrap, which is designed to minimize air leakage This type of wrap is commonly installed during the construction process as part of an integrated system.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What Every First-Time Renter Should Do

January 21, 2015 3:00 am

There’s no question that renting presents a financial challenge for some millennials. If you’re considering making the leap to renting for the first time, weigh your options carefully by taking these steps. Preparing in advance will make you a happier renter – and lead to long-term savings.

Know your credit rating.
A landlord can and will consult your credit score before approving your lease. Before touring apartments, ensure your credit is good standing. Any discrepancies in your credit history can cost you your dream digs.

Have some money in the bank. If you’re serious about renting, save up at least three months worth of living expenses before moving in. Depending on your landlord’s policy, this will cover a security deposit or first and last’s month’s rent, as well as any unforeseen expenditures.

Shop within your budget. Stick to rentals that your budget can reasonably accommodate. Financial experts recommend spending no more than 30 percent of your monthly income on rent, but that’s not always a realistic number, especially in big cities. If you live in a high rent area, bump up your percentage to no more than 50 percent.

Factor in household items. Many first-time renters forget that everything in the apartment must be financed by their income, including small items such as toilet paper and garbage bags. Budget for household necessities, and while you’re at it, factor in renters insurance, too.

Stick to basic big ticket furniture. When you first start renting, avoid the temptation to furnish every square inch of your apartment. You only really need three things: a place to sleep, a place to sit and a place to eat. Other furnishings can come later, after you’ve established a workable monthly budget.

Learn to grocery shop. Instead of going out for meals or ordering takeout, spend some time in your local grocery store learning sales schedules. And get yourself a cookbook – preparing your meals on your own will save you hundreds in food costs each year.

Source: Bankrate

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Four Ways to Save Big on Winter Travel

January 21, 2015 3:00 am

Winter months are generally less expensive for travelers. Booking platform One Degree World (www.1degreeworld.com) recommends that snow birds take advantage of winter travel deals with these tips.

Choose your booking day wisely.
Try to book airfare mid-week and travel off-season, advises Aleza Freeman, One Degree World. “I always pick a general timeframe in which I’d like to travel, then let the prices dictate the actual dates,” she says. “If you can’t be flexible, try booking at the last-minute.”

Consider a stay-cation.
For those of us lucky enough to live in vacation areas, be a tourist in your own town. Oftentimes locals are eligible for huge discounts on hotels and attractions, and you just may discover some hidden gems you never knew existed.

Find local hot spots.

It’s no secret that prices skyrocket in tourist areas. Explore off the beaten path and go to local haunts, which are often less expensive than tourist trap establishments. “There’s absolutely no reason to stick to the typical attraction these days,” Freeman says.

Splurge on priorities.
If staying in the lap of luxury is your thing, don't skimp on the hotel. Instead, try to get a great deal on a flight. Are you a foodie? Make sure you eat at the best places, but look for lower priced hotels for your accommodations. "There's a deal out there for everything," Freeman says. "You just have to find the one that's right for you."

Source: One Degree World

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The Ins and Outs of Building Permits

January 20, 2015 3:00 am

If you’re considering a home improvement project, you may need a permit. Permits can cost as little as $25 and up to $1,000 or more, or can be calculated as a percentage of the total remodeling budget.

How do you know if you need a permit? Permits are generally not necessary for projects that update the aesthetics of the home, such as new appliances, flooring and carpeting. Major renovations, such as a kitchen or bath remodel, almost always need a permit. A good rule of thumb is to evaluate whether the project will disrupt the layout of the home, i.e., cutting a new window or tearing down a load-bearing wall.

For safety purposes, some municipalities require permits for projects that can affect the wellbeing of the home’s occupants. These projects include things like electrical wiring, plumbing or a new fence.

If you’ll be enlisting the help of a qualified contractor, research their practices before hiring. Don’t be afraid to ask for the contact information of the person responsible for pulling permits, and verify that they are, in fact, playing by the book. Your contractor should also tell you if their estimate includes permit fees – if not, ask.

If you’re going to complete the work yourself, always check with your local permitting department before beginning any project. Talk to someone who can tell you whether a city inspection is necessary and what documents are needed before you apply.

Source: Homes.com

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Fiberglass Front Doors Bolster ROI

January 20, 2015 3:00 am

According to the recently released Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report, entry doors offer the highest return on your remodeling dollar. The report found that by replacing an entry door, homeowners can expect almost 97 percent return on investment, a key factor when buying or selling a home.

"Consumers stand to recoup nearly all of their initial investment in the entry door when it comes time to sell their home," said Keith Kometer, VP of Residential Product Development for Masonite, a leading global designer and manufacturer of residential exterior and interior doors. "The value of a new entry door is due in part to the added level of security and durability it adds to a home, but it also adds to the home's overall curb appeal."

Curb appeal is key to attracting potential homebuyers. It is also important to homeowners looking for a simple, cost-effective way to enhance the look of their house.

"The front door can be an emotional focal point," said Kometer. "It's an important part of the overall feel of a home."

Fiberglass technologies bolster the financial ROI on the purchase of a new entry door. Some varieties will not rust or dent, and they resist splitting, cracking and warping.

"The cost to install a fiberglass door can be relatively low, especially compared to more intensive home improvement projects such as a kitchen remodel," said Kometer.

To get the most from your investment, entry doors should be tailored to the theme of the house. Replacing an entry door is easiest when the weather is still warm, but January and February are ideal months for homes in the Sun Belt region of the U.S.

Source: Masonite

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Full Steam Ahead for U.S. Economy

January 20, 2015 3:00 am

Lower oil and gasoline prices are adding fuel to America’s economy, according to a recent report by TD Economics. The economy is expected to grow by 3 percent in 2015. With faster growth, experts anticipate the unemployment rate falling to 5.5 percent by the end of the year.

"The fall in energy prices could hardly have come at a better time, said TD Chief Economist Craig Alexander. Just as the job market is hitting its stride and wages are moving up, energy prices are falling, reducing inflation and leaving more money in consumers' pockets."

Since September, oil and gasoline prices have fallen more than 40 percent, and American consumers are the clear beneficiaries. "While falling prices will slow growth in oil-producing regions of the country, the average American household will save over $500 on gasoline over the next year," said Alexander. "Money that is not funneled into gas tanks will be used on other goods and services, providing an important lift to consumer spending."

The improvement on the job front should mean higher interest rates. However, this is balance against an inflation outlook that has becoming increasingly benign over the next year. Rising job openings, falling unemployment, and rising wages are all signs that, as the temporary impact of decreasing energy prices falls out, inflation will move toward the Fed's target.

Source: TD Economics

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Busting First-Time Homebuyer Myths

January 19, 2015 3:00 am

(BPT) - When buying a first home, most people are making one of the biggest purchases of their lives. Without home buying experience, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Get the facts on these common first-time home buying myths:

Myth – It takes a 20 percent down payment to buy a home.

Reality
– Required down payment amounts vary by type of loan and they are on average much smaller than people think. Last year, the median down payment for all first-time buyers was 6 percent, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. One reason is that many first-time buyers use FHA loans, which require down payments as low as 3 to 3.5 percent. VA loans require nothing down for qualified veterans or active military personnel. If you want to take out a conventional loan, many lenders do require 20 percent down, but you can lower that percentage with private mortgage insurance. There are also hundreds of down payment assistance programs that eliminate or reduce down payment requirements for qualified borrowers.

Myth – If you owe a lot of student loan debt, there is no way you can get a mortgage.

Reality – Don't assume that having a lot of student loan debt automatically disqualifies you from getting a mortgage. The key factor is not necessarily the size of your loan obligation, but the amount of your total monthly debt payments compared to your monthly income. This is called DTI.

Myth – If your credit score is low, you should not even try to get a mortgage.

Reality – Millions of potential buyers assume they will not be approved for a mortgage even though many could qualify. Today, median FICO scores for mortgages to buy a home are 683 for FHA loans and 754 for conventional loans. But hundreds of thousands of buyers with scores lower than those are getting mortgages if they have good income and low levels of debt.

Myth – Buying a home isn't a good investment.


Reality
– Real estate, like other assets, rises and falls based on supply and demand. Over the past two years, home values in most markets have been rising. While all real estate is local, if you bought a home in March 2012, by August 2014, the national median home price as measured by Case-Shiller had risen 29.6 percent.

Myth – The mortgage interest tax deduction is going away.

Reality
– Though the deduction has its critics, most observers believe it is unlikely that Congress will eliminate the mortgage interest deduction any time soon. Many states also allow homeowners to write off the interest they pay on their mortgages from their state income taxes. Check with your accountant or CPA on if you can qualify for this type of tax deduction.

Myth – I'm about to get married and the wedding is so expensive I won't be able to buy a home.

Reality – According to TheKnot, the average wedding has 138 guests who typically give a gift valued at $100 each. That's $13,800 in spatulas, baking pans and other things. If every guest contributed to a down payment fund instead, you could have enough saved for a down payment.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Household 'Internet of Things' Heats Up in 2015

January 19, 2015 3:00 am

U.S. households will continue to adopt smart home technologies this year, according to recently released research from marketing intelligence firm Parks Associates. With 37 percent of households set to own or use a connected device in 2015, it’s clear that the ‘Internet of things’ is continuing to gain traction in everyday households.

Currently, 34 percent of households contain a smart home television, and 16 percent own a smart home device. Retailers will continue to meet the demands of this growing trend, rolling out interactive, flexible and personalized innovations throughout 2015 and beyond.

“This year will feature an expansion of the smart home,” said Tom Kerber, Parks Associates. “Companies from [all] channels are now competing in the smart home ecosystem.”

Source: Parks Associates

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Five Steps to Cyber Security

January 19, 2015 3:00 am

Amidst a digital age and the digitization of information, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. Recent studies show that every minute, 19 identities are stolen. Headlines have shown data breach after data breach taking place at major retailers. And as seen in the case of Sony Pictures, no matter how large the corporation is, or how much security is applied to personal information, with today’s breaches, everyone is at risk.

To help prevent theft from occurring, the American Consumer Credit Counseling organization advises taking these preemptive steps.

1. Be elusive on social media. Try to exclude specific, important information from your social media profiles. Minimize details in your “About Me” sections, and leave out phone numbers or addresses. This information is prime knowledge for hackers. Also, be sure to set all your privacy settings to create a secure profile.

2. Strengthen your online passwords. While it’s easier to remember passwords with our birthdays or hometowns in them, try to make your password a little more complex. Use punctuation and different capitalization. Also, veer away from using one password for all your accounts; if one is hacked, all your information across accounts can be compromised.

3. Be wary with your email address. While shopping online, or creating required accounts, use a new email address. Creating an email address for yourself is an easy task, and it’s best to have a specific one for online activity. Use a primary email address for personal information; use your secondary one for shopping, newsgroups, or social networking sites. Make sure to only give your primary email address to people you know.

4. Look for signs. Look for suspicious red flags when you’re on websites or signing up for mailing lists. Make sure your online purchases come from companies with secure payment pages and privacy policies. You can check Web addresses: if there is an ‘s’ located after the ‘http’ (https://), the website is secure. If not, don’t use it. Never respond to emails asking for account information or passwords. If a “bank” is asking for this information electronically, make sure to call the bank directly.

5. Monitor what you’ve shared. Identity thieves gain access to personal information by piecing together information over multiple websites. Make sure to think about what information you have where online.

Source: ACCC

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Do Off-season Home Projects Now, Save Later

January 16, 2015 3:00 am

Remodeling projects have peak and off-seasons – winter, for example, is prime time for heating and insulation professionals. While you may need to do a cold weather repair this season, consider taking advantage of projects normally carried out in warmer months, too. Some ideas:

Install Central Air Conditioning

According to Consumer Reports, central air conditioners are 20-40 percent more efficient than those manufactured just 10 years ago. Air conditioning is probably the last thing on your mind in winter, but now’s the perfect time to score a deal from a qualified cooling contractor. And professionals are more likely to return calls, give you estimates and complete the project on time during a slower season.

Prune Trees
Since there’s no leaves to create mess, winter is the perfect season to remove dead limbs or trim back branches. It’s also easier to gauge what needs pruning without leaves obstructing your view, and there will be less debris to pick up once you’re finished.

Replace Windows
Most modern windows can be installed at any time of year, thanks to new, water-resistant coverings like vinyl, aluminum and fiberglass. Have your window installer measure each window prior to taking out the old one so that every new window can be fitted to the frame immediately.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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