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Mary Mastroeni

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Easy Ways To Pump Up Curb Appeal

March 6, 2013 3:50 pm

Curb appeal refers to the way your house looks from the street. As the very first impression prospective buyers have of your home, there’s no overestimating its importance. However, we want to let you in on a little secret – it can be super easy. This week, we have a few simple tips that won’t break the bank AND can be completed in time for you to get to your weekend plans. (Go ahead and have that beer, you deserve it!)

Embrace Flowers: Especially now that spring is around the corner, flowers are a great way to add some visual interest to the front of your home. Window boxes can easily add a pop of color to the house while keeping your new garden contained. But, if that’s too much work, most garden centers sell partially mature plants already in decorative pots. Arrange a couple of these on your doorstep and you’re good to go. 

Decorate Your Doorway: It’s important for potential buyers to get a welcoming feeling from your home. Make sure it happens before they even enter the front door. Throw down a welcome mat, hang up a wreath, and change out old hardware so that your doorstep gives off that “homey” feel. Also, don’t be afraid to give your door and screen a quick wipe down, you’d be surprised what a big difference it makes.

Make Use Of Identifiers: When selling, you want to make sure that people know which house is yours, even if they’re just doing a quick drive-by. Choose a set of decorative numbers from your local home improvement store and display them in a spot that is easily identifiable from afar. (It wouldn’t hurt to put a second set on the mailbox, too.)

Light The Way: Typically, buyers go out on showings after they come home from work, which means it will likely be dark by the time they get to your house. A dark entranceway can feel uninviting. By placing lights at the start of your walkway and around the doorway, you can ensure a welcoming start to the showing – not to mention it highlights all of your hard work!

Do A Final Spruce: This one is up to you to decide. Are there some rogue weeds sprouting up? Does the grass need to be cut? Did the kids leave their soccer net out in the yard again? Clean things up so that your home looks as put together as possible. You don’t want potential buyers to get distracted from all your home has to offer.   

FHA Versus Conventional Loans

February 27, 2013 4:58 pm

 Figuring out how to finance your home can be daunting, especially when you’re a first-time homebuyer. Really, how often do you deal with that amount of money, right?  Don’t worry, this week, we’ve tried to take some of the stress out of it by providing you with a cheat sheet.

Traditionally, there are two types of mortgages: FHA (Federal Housing Administration) and conventional loans. Obviously, each option is going to have its pros and cons. Read below, to decide which option works best for you and your family:

FHA Loan:  

First implemented during the Great Depression in order to increase home construction, FHA loans fall under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is important to note that the FHA does not make loans. Rather, it insures loans made by private lenders, so shopping around is key.


·      Low Down Payment: The main selling point of an FHA loan is the 3.5% minimum down payment requirement.

o   A minimum credit score of 580 is needed to qualify

·      Low Credit Score Minimum: FHA boasts a minimum required credit score of 500

o   However, buyers with credit scores between 500 and 579 are required to make a down payment of 10%

·      Higher Typical Lending Limit: Buyers in higher-cost areas can borrow up to $729,750

·      No Payment Penalty



  • ·      Mortgage Insurance Requirement: Both upfront and annual insurance premiums are necessary.
  • ·      Limited options: 15 year fixed-rate, 30 year fixed rate, or 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages are the most common.
  • ·      One at a Time: Generally, buyers are only allowed one FHA loan at a time
Conventional Loans:
Conventional loan is not made by a government entity nor insured by a government entity. Homebuyers can take out an amortized conventional loan from almost any bank, a savings and loan, a credit union or even through a mortgage broker.


·      More Options: The type of loan is decided individually between you and your lending institutions, so other options like a 10 year fixed-rate or 7 year adjustable-rate may be available

·      No Mortgage Insurance: Typically requires a 20% down payment

·      Can Have Many Conventional Loans at Once

·      Accepted Everywhere: Many condo complexes won’t go for FHA financing. The same goes for non-owner investment properties


·      Stricter Requirements: Generally, conventional mortgages require a down payment between five and 20 percent and credit score varies.

·      Possible Payment Penalty


 Click Here for More Info (and never hesitate to talk to your Realtor):



6 Tips for Moving With Kids

February 20, 2013 1:35 pm

 Let’s be honest, moving is stressful no matter what. But, there’s an extra layer to worry when kids are involved. Luckily, kids are extremely resilient and adaptable. They’ll be fine once they get through the initial adjustment period. But, we wouldn’t just let you hang out to dry until then! This week, we have 6 tips to ensure that you and your kids come through your move with flying colors.

Have A Family Meeting: Breaking the moving news can be a big deal. Order a couple pizzas or cook a favorite meal, but make sure that everyone is convened in the same place. Be honest: share both your excitements and anxieties relating to the move, as well as preparing the kids for what to expect during the moving process. Give each child a chance to do the same and reassure them that their concerns are valid. Just remember to end on a positive note, framing the move as a new, exciting opportunity.   

Give Everyone a Job: No one wants to feel like the whole process is happening without them. It’s up to you to make sure that everyone feels included. Give each child a job that is age appropriate – assembling boxes, labeling, organizing items. Don’t be afraid to make a game out of it, so at the end of the day everyone feels accomplished. 

Clean Out Clutter: Moving is a great time to get rid of unused clutter.  Have a garage sale beforehand. Make it clear that any money from the sale will go towards a treat related to your new home. It can be the bigger TV everyone has been wanting or a trip to the amusement park in your new city.  Help each child go through their things and decide what they would like to get rid of. If this process gets tough, remind them of the reward.

Stay In Touch: One of a child’s biggest concerns about moving is a fear of losing friends. A goodbye party is a great way to ease these fears with a celebration. During the party, you can collect friends’ contact information and make plans to have weekly phone calls or send postcards. Just be sure to follow through once you get there.

(Pro Tip: One fun activity is to have each guest write down or draw a favorite memory, then share it. After the party, you can collect these memories on a board or in special box so that can be brought to your new home.)

Stick To Routines: It can be tempting to slack off on things a bit while in the midst of moving chaos. But, children are creatures of habit who feel more comfortable with things they know. If their location is in flux, it’s very reassuring to remind them that everything else will remain the same in their new home. Stick to those familiar bedtime and time out routines n matter how crazy things get. And, don’t forget to maintain regular rewards as well!

Become a Tourist: This, obviously, is especially necessary if your family is moving further than just down the street. It’s important to make your new location feel like home as quickly as possible. One easy way to do this is to explore the new area. Make it fun, go on adventures. We guarantee that you’ll feel more comfortable in your surroundings and so will the kids. 

5 Winter Energy Saving Tips

February 13, 2013 3:55 pm

Winter is only half over and who knows how many more “storms of the century” lay ahead. Whether you’re a buyer, seller, or proud homeowner, everyone is undoubtedly feeling the strain of heating bills these days. This week we’ve brought you some seasonal energy-saving tips. Here’s hoping that you can use them to avoid wearing gloves to the dinner table. (But even if you do, we won’t judge – we promise.)

Maintain Your Heating Equipment:  This one’s huge. No one wants to be left without heat when they need it most, not to mention a big repair bill to boot. Dirt and neglect are the top causes of heating system failure, especially on appliances more than a decade old. Even if you think your system is fine, it can’t hurt to get it checked out. 

While we’re on the subject, dirty air filters are another leading cause of system breakdown. Most sources recommend that they be changed every three months for optimal performance. Plus, the better they function, the less energy your system has to expend, and the more money stays in your pocket.

Seal Off Air Leaks: Now, in a perfect world, this would have been taken care of before the dead of winter, but better late than never. In rooms that are excessively drafty, you may have an issue with air leaks, particularly around windows and doorframes. Sealing the air leaks with caulk, spray foam, or weather stripping can help you get the most out of your home’s insulation.

Close Doors: Shutting the door to unused rooms, can help you avoid unnecessarily heating the space. Studies have shown that this simple action can save up to 3 percent* on monthly heating costs. (Pro-tip: Make sure to reduce sun exposure in these spaces as temperature fluctuation can sometimes lead to mold growth.)

Open Drapes: On sunny days, don’t be afraid to use natural energy to your advantage. Open up the drapes and let the sun help heat the room, especially if the windows are south or west facing. As an added bonus, sun exposure has also been known to help drive away those “winter blues”!

Wait To Do Your Laundry: We don’t know about you, but we’ll take this excuse and run with it. It’s no secret that a bunch of half-full loads can needlessly add to your water and energy bills. Waiting until you have a full load (along with washing in cold or lukewarm water) can help you save 2-4 percent* on your next bill.

*In case you’re curious, the statistics used in this article are from The EPA and The Edison Electric Institute and were compiled in another article found here:

3 Things To Consider When Thinking Of Buying

January 30, 2013 4:06 pm

Congratulations, deciding that you’re ready to buy your own home is a big step! Now, it’s time to think about what kind of what kind of home you’d like to purchase – style of architecture, number of bedrooms, lot size.  While every buyer has a wish list, you should be prepared to make some compromise. However, there are some areas on which comprise isn’t such a virtue. We’ve laid out three for your consideration:

BUDGET: Surprisingly, it’s not one flat rate that needs to be decided upon. It’s best to have two figures in your head when looking at listings: a figure that you’d prefer to stay under and then your absolute maximum. This maximum gives you a little wiggle room and comes into play when deciding if it’s worth it to spring for a completely redone kitchen.  (Don’t be afraid. Remember, while a couple thousand dollars may seem like a huge deal when looking at the total price tag, the amount is much smaller when distributed over your monthly payments.) Don’t feel like you have to let your dream house go over a few lattes per month.

LOCATION: “Location, Location, Location” is the ultimate home-buying cliché for a reason. This is because, at the end of the day, it’s the one thing about the house that really cannot be changed. Once you settle into a home, new appliances can be bought and paint colors can be altered, but your commute to work will never shorten. Conversely, a property that’s too close to a major road may eventually be subject to expansion or unattractive to buyers upon resale.

TURN KEY VS. FIXER UPPER: On the one hand, renovating is a great way to put your own personal stamp on a home and it’s seems like a great way to save a few extra bucks, at least initially. But, on the other, they are also a huge responsibility. Are you handy? Do you have the time to deal with contractors or do the projects on your own? Are you prepared to deal with unexpected setbacks and extra costs?  Now is the time to be honest  about these things. It’s hard to call it quits in the middle of a project.

5 Simple Home Staging Tips

January 24, 2013 4:20 pm

Let’s be honest, selling your home can be hard work. On top of school, work, and softball practice it’s not easy to shuffle the whole family out the door, so that prospective buyers can come through for a showing. At that point, the last thing on anyone’s mind is making sure that the house looks like a Homes and Gardens cover. 

Unfortunately, staging is one of those necessary evils.  A showing is a prospective buyer’s first – and quite possibly only – impression. Just like on a first date, it’s really important to put your best foot forward. People talk and homes that show better inevitably get more traffic. Lucky for you, we have 5 tips to make sure the process is as quick and painless as possible. 

CLEAN: This seems like it should go without saying, but it bears repeating. Luckily, that doesn’t mean you have to hog wild for each showing. Use your time wisely. Scrub in the corners when you have time on the weekends. Then, just make sure that you do a quick sweep to pick up those odds and ends before you leave.

DON’T CUT CORNERS:  Everyone has experienced a moment when company is five minutes away and the living room still looks like a tornado hit it. The easy answer is to shove the whole mess into a closet and deal with it later, right? That may work most of the time, but remember that when potential buyers are on a showing, they are trying to picture themselves living in the home. They want to see as much as possible. This means closets, laundry rooms, and even attics or crawl spaces in some cases. If you’d be embarrassed to show your guests, don’t take the chance.     

ORGANIZE (ESPECIALLY FOR PETS): It will be a lot easier to get everyone out of the house on time if you know where everything belongs. (Pro tip: Dark colored bins can hide a multitude of sins.)  This goes double if you have pets. Always make sure that all paraphilia – like food or a liter box - is in the same room and as tucked away as can be. Whenever possible, take Fido with you to minimize risk of accidents or allergies.    

DEPERSONALIZE: There is no doubt that you have an impeccable sense of personal style. However, you have no idea who will be seeing your home. It could be a young professional searching for her first house or an older couple looking to downsize. Your job is to appeal to as many people as possible. Now is the time to remove family photos and big statement pieces. When in doubt, neutral works best. 

EMBRACE LITTLE TOUCHES: You don’t have to break the bank to add value to your home. A new coat of paint and some fresh flowers can go a long way.

Exploring the Pros & Cons Of FSBO

August 10, 2012 7:06 pm

Should I FSBO? It’s a question that often comes up.

The practice of a homeowner with no previous experience selling one’s own property is not uncommon. But whether to do it or not is a subject of intense debate.

Floridian real estate professional Riley Smith recently blogged that you could not pick a worse time to list on your own. While inventory is low and well-priced, homes are seeing multiple-offer situations. Smith has never seen a more difficult time to get to the closing table than right now.

He says pitfalls from new insurance requirements as well as appraisal values and lending guidelines have real potential to blow up a FSBO deal.

He went so far as to highlight the fact that the Wall Street Journal discovered that the founder of, hired a REALTOR® to sell his New York apartment because he was unable to get the job done on his own.

In Texas, real esate professional Loreena Yeo makes the point that FSBOs residing in non-disclosure states may be stymied by a lack of accurate information to accurately value their property.

Yeo also blogged that some FSBOs may be more successful than others simply because of location. If a home is located on a busy street where many people constantly drive by, they are more inclined to see and talk about a house that is for sale.

She also stresses the Miranda warning: ‘You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law.’

Yeo warns that a regular home seller without much experience, more often times, will volunteer information without realizing it. So watch what you say - and to whom - or you might talk your way into some legal entanglements that will cost a lot more to untangle.


5 Ways to Boost Home Security

August 10, 2012 7:06 pm

Studies show that summer is the peak season for home break-ins. Why? Because people tend to open the windows and forget to close them when they leave. They forget to lock the front door while working out back in the garden – often leaving purses, wallets, and other valuables out in plain sight.

In addition to correcting these common oversights, the consumer advocates at Consumer Reports suggest five ways to boost your home security:
• Kickproof your doors – Most doors, whether solid wood, fiberglass or steel, are resistant to hard blows. The problem is the door jamb area near the lock’s strike plate. You can strengthen these areas on exterior doors by using a one-inch long deadbolt lock and a reinforced metal box strike, which costs about $10. Use three-inch long screws to mount them so they lodge in the framing beyond the door jamb. (And don’t overlook the door that leads into your house from the garage.)
• Choose the right locks – High security locks, which cost up to $175, are worth the price because they resist drilling and picking. Equally important: Carry a pull-apart key chain, so your home key stays with you when your car is being serviced or valet-parked.
• Landscape wisely – Trim tree branches that could provide access to windows’ roof or skylights. Remember that tall plants and high fences can provide cover for criminals – and that gravel beds around the perimeter of the house make it easier to hear anyone lurking outside.
• Keep it bright – Illuminate areas around doors, windows and blind spots. Install lights on high exterior walls so they can’t be easily disabled. Low-voltage light systems provide more light than solar powered lights – and can be connected to motion detectors.
• Don’t leave garage door openers in your car – They can be an open invitation to robbers. Especially if your address is easily obtained from papers in your glove compartment, tuck the garage door opener into your purse or briefcase whenever you park your car away from home.


Going On Vacation? Tips to Keep the Garden Green

August 10, 2012 7:06 pm

(ARA) - Looking forward to a nice, relaxing vacation? Don't forget about that garden while you're sipping umbrella drinks on a beach or snapping photos of the Grand Canyon. Make sure you have a plan for keeping the garden green and the grass under control while you're gone.

The best solution, of course, is a reliable friend or neighbor who will give your garden the loving attention that you would. Simply offering to trade some fresh produce or a bunch of flowers for watering can often work in your favor and act as a motivator to the reluctant helper. However, not everyone is lucky enough to have a reliable person they can count on for garden care. This doesn't mean all is lost. Whether you have a competent garden-sitter or not, a few quick steps can help to ensure continued health of your garden while you're away.

Make the most of mulch
Mulches that are derived from wood can act as an excellent layer of protection for retaining moisture and can help keep weeds at bay by blocking access to sunlight, especially while you are out of town. Soak soil thoroughly and add a fresh layer of mulch to the garden, around trees and shrubs and even on the tops of containers.

Timing is everything
Invest in a timer or two to connect to the outdoor faucet. Hook these up to sprinklers or drip hoses and set timers to come on in the early morning hours to reduce evaporation. There's no need for a garden-sitter to remember when to water. All your sitter needs to do is over-ride the timer for you in case of rain.

Get a drip
Head to the local home-improvement store to stock up on drip-irrigation materials before leaving for a vacation and make your life easier all growing season. It's so easy to use drip irrigation in vegetable gardens and flower beds that you'll kick yourself for not doing it sooner. Weave lengths of drip tape or "leaky pipe" through the plants and cover the beds - irrigation and all - with a thick layer of mulch.

Another option is to make your own simple drip irrigation system by using two-liter soda bottles from the recycling bin. Just rinse out bottles and poke a few small holes in the bottom. Then fill 1/3 full with sand. Next, bury the bottle next to the plant and fill with water. Water will slowly filter through the sand and holes and gradually provide moisture to the plants' root zone. With a bit of ingenuity you can enjoy your vacation knowing that the plants are happily taking care of themselves.

Container care

Container gardens require a bit more attention and planning to ensure you come home to the same beautiful plants. If you're going away for a just a few days, all you really need is to give the plants a thorough soaking before you leave. For longer trips, first add a layer of mulch, then group pots together to retain humidity and position them in a shady location or in a baby pool filled a few inches deep with water.

Grassy goodness

The good news is that when you're going away for a week in the summer, your lawn won't miss you. Grass grows more slowly in the heat of summer, so simple preparations will do just fine. Just mow your grass at the regular height the day before you go. If you water your lawn, be sure to water it deeply the day before you leave. If you plan to be away longer, grass may go dormant but, no need to worry. Going dormant is a healthy coping mechanism for grass in periods of dry summer heat. You can water it deeply when you get back. If you'll be gone for more than two weeks, you may want to hire the neighborhood kid or a mowing service to cut your grass while you're away.


Q: What guidelines are useful for finding an architect?

August 10, 2012 7:06 pm

A: Start by finding out who designed the projects that you like in your community. Get referrals from people you know, or the local American Institute of Architects (AIA). Interview three to five firms to get a range of possibilities for your project. But only select firms that specialize in residential designs, preferably remodeling, and review their portfolios and talk with past clients. Insist on meeting the key people who will work on your project and ask questions until you’re comfortable and confident about your decision. Ultimately, select a firm based on its design ability, technical competence, professional service, and cost. Then, enter into detailed negotiations about service and compensation. The AIA offers standard-form owner-architect agreements that can help you begin this process.