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

Coupon Nation: Nearly All Americans Save with Coupons

September 15, 2014 1:48 am

RetailMeNot, a leading digital offers destination that helps consumers save money, recently reported that nearly all Americans (96 percent) are coupon users.

According to the report, the number of Americans who rely mostly on mobile coupons has been steadily increasing over the past few years. This consumer behavior coincides with retailers and brands moving their marketing promotions to mobile and digital formats.

Based on the level of coupon click activity in relation to each city's population, these are the top 10 metro areas that use coupons:
1. New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA Metro
2. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH Metro
3. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD Metro
4. Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT Metro
5. Providence-Warwick, RI-MA Metro
6. Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD Metro
7. Pittsburgh, PA Metro
8. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metro
9. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL Metro
10. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY Metro
In the top 10 active couponing metros, clothing and food categories ranked consistently at the top for click activity, followed by electronics and home and garden.

The report also shows that interest in different types of deals varies:
  • Coupon users living in the Northeast are more likely than those living in other regions to be most interested in receiving a specific percentage off a purchase.
  • Those living in the South are more likely than those living elsewhere to be most interested in "buy one, get one free" deals.
  • More than 2 in 5 (43 percent) coupon users consider discounts up to 25 percent to be a good deal.
  • Respondents are most interested in deals that offer a specific dollar amount off of their purchase (30 percent).
Source: RetailMeNot

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Four Steps to Reclaim Your Space after Life Changes

September 15, 2014 1:48 am

Life events like purchasing a new home or a child moving out can leave homeowners facing a bare and empty room -- and a decorating challenge.

Decor&You, one of America's leading, full-service, interior decorating franchises, understands how overwhelming this process can feel. To begin the transformation, the company’s design experts encourage homeowners to visualize their empty space as a blank canvas where they have the opportunity to create a masterpiece.

"Finding yourself in a position to completely design a room is a rare occasion and can be exciting," stated Karen Powell, founder and CEO of Decor&You. "While the idea of decorating a room from scratch appears daunting, maintain a positive attitude and harness the situation as an opportunity to reclaim your space and make it your own. With the right approach, you can make the task of decorating into an enjoyable experience."

Powell offers these simple guidelines to create a space you love:
  • Assess the room: The first step in design is to get acquainted with the room. Gather measurements, make notes of large windows, doors and built-in shelves, and familiarize yourself with the geometry and space provided. By learning the shape of the room, you'll have insight into what furniture and décor pieces will best complement the room's silhouette.
  • Find something you love: The next step is to determine the overall theme. While it's typical to be overwhelmed by an infinite selection of colors, selecting a theme helps the rest of the room’s décor fall easily into place. One of the most effective strategies to ensure organized and cohesive décor is to start with something that you love. Whether it is a large sofa, a tiny, eccentric statement piece, a color, pattern or piece of art, this focal theme will dictate the remainder of the decorating process.
  • Make it happen: Reflect back on your theme and what you love; then, start with the basics. How can you create a background to support the color(s) in your theme? Where and how can you incorporate these via paint, wall coverings, pillows, bedding, a throw, an area rug, etc.? What is needed for the function of the room?
  • Elaborate: After you have decided on a wall color and furniture pieces, the final detail is to place everything thoughtfully. Ponder the purpose of the room and picture yourself living in the space. Consider what it's lacking in order to reach its full, functional potential. This is the time to emphasize "you". Visualize different embellishments. Try turning a hobby, such as a painting easel or book collection, into a display, or create a gallery by placing photos in matching frames.
Source: Decor&You

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Trim Moving Costs by Planning Ahead

September 12, 2014 5:39 pm

Whether you plan to pack up and move your belongings on your own or hire a moving company to do all the heavy lifting, one thing’s for certain: moving isn’t cheap.

A good moving company will cost thousands of dollars, and that number is likely to increase if you hire them to pack everything as well. Or, if you don’t have a new home yet and need to store everything in the meantime, the cost for the moving company to store everything can get pricey.

Therefore, it’s important to compare moving companies ahead of time in order to find the best rate. Be sure to look for hidden fees (distance, gas and size requirements) and factor in tips and tolls.

Since many moving companies base the price on weight, taking small, heavy items and packing them away in your car can help you save on the final cost. You may also want to consider holding a garage sale prior to the move in order to get rid of items you don’t want or need. This will keep you from moving things that are going to end up being thrown out or stored in the garage at your new destination.

Boxes are also a lot more money than many people realize. Small- and medium-sized boxes can run a few dollars a piece and larger, garment-sized boxes are nearly double that. While boxes can be found everywhere, take the time to go to your local grocery store or bookstore and ask if they have any to spare. Almost all do and will tell you the best times to come pick them up.

Another great idea is to go to freecycle.com or Craigslist and do a search for moving supplies. Many people who have recently moved will give away their boxes, peanuts and even bubble wrap for free—all you have to do is go pick up the supplies. Not only does this save them from having to tear down the boxes and dispose of them, it’ll also get you closer to your move.

You’ll also need to buy tape, bubble wrap and other protective coverings and packaging material. Buying in bulk will not only save you money, but will also ensure that you don’t run out.

If you don’t have too much stuff and you’re not going too far, you can save a great deal of money by renting your own U-Haul and gathering a group of friends to help you move. While it may cost you a little extra in pizza and beer, the money saved will be well worth it.

For more information about the costs associated with moving, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Water-logged Basements Pose Unique Challenges When It Comes Time to Sell

September 12, 2014 5:39 pm

A slew of weather-related catastrophes, including hurricanes, torrential rain and floods, have hit the U.S. in recent years, and as a result, homeowners across the board have had to deal with flooded basements.

But even heavy rain or snow can cause problems in certain homes, as foundations just can’t hold up against the water. For a house with a water problem like this, going up for sale can be a challenge, especially if heavy rains leave you with a few inches of water in the basement the day before an open house. Not only will there be no time to clean it up before a showing, it’ll also turn most prospective buyers off.

Not that you should hide the fact that there are water problems. You don’t want to be responsible for someone putting in an expensive remodel, only to have it ruined by water. But explaining to a potential buyer that there are water issues and having them actually see the water on the ground are two different things.

In most states, a seller is not allowed to conceal a major or material physical defect in the property. And most states require sellers to take a proactive role by making written disclosures on the condition of the property, including the basement and any water issues.

Plus, any good inspector should be able to tell a prospective buyer about any water damage the basement may have seen. Buyers can check for themselves during a showing as well. Seepage from foundation walls generally winds up on the floor and will leave stains on both the walls and the concrete floor. In finished areas where there is drywall or paneling, be sure to check the baseboards for signs of water.

The smartest thing for a seller to do is fix the problem. There are a number of reputable companies out there whose model is based on renovating basements and fixing all water issues. Repairing a leaky basement will pay back for itself several times over in the value of the home. In fact, studies show that a home’s value can drop by 10-20 percent because of a wet basement.

Something as simple as adding a sump pump and interior drainage system with a transferable warranty will do a great deal to help negotiations when meeting with prospective buyers.

Or, if you don’t want to go through any trouble with fixing the problem, be prepared to lower your price considerably so that the buyer has the funds to waterproof the basement once they move in.

For more information about taking care of water in the basement, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Home Theater Rooms Continue to Rise in Popularity

September 12, 2014 5:39 pm

People might be watching more TV on their tablets and cellphones these days, but that doesn’t mean the demise of the home television is occurring anytime soon. In fact, one of the largest increases in requests that real estate agents have gotten in recent years concerns the desire for a home to be equipped with a home theater room—or at least the space available to put one in.

For many Gen X and Gen Y homebuyers, especially men, a home theater is just as important as a large kitchen or walk-in closets.

Today’s home theaters utilize the latest in big screen projection, state-of-the-art surround sound and usually have lush, movie-style seating and couches—sometimes on multiple levels. A plethora of home theater companies have popped up and can work with buyers to retrofit an existing space such as a basement, or transform a different room in the house into the theater of their dreams.

Large, curved TVs are all the rage right now, and home theater technology is cheaper than it’s ever been. Real estate experts agree that home theaters add value to a home because technology has allowed families to bring the movie watching experience closer to home.

In fact, according to the Home Builders Association, in most new homes built with a $250,000+ price point, home theater or media rooms are almost standard now. Beyond a place where the family comes together to be entertained, studies show that next to the kitchen, the family room is the most occupied room of the house.

If selling a home with a home theater, there are several ways to make it more appealing prior to a showing. Begin by cleaning all surfaces, and be sure wiring is as discrete as possible. You’ll also want to store electronics that may look sloppy due to wires or size. While an abundance of seating is a crucial component in any home theater, if you’re in the process of showing your home, you may want to reduce the number of seating options in order to provide a more spacious look.

Odds are you’ll be taking your TV with you when you move, but be willing to make a deal should the new buyer ask you to leave the room in tact. It could add extra money to the deal so that you can upgrade to even newer and better equipment in your new home.

To learn more about home theater rooms, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What You Need to Know About the VA Loan Program, and How It Can Benefit You

September 12, 2014 5:39 pm

Our military personnel do a great deal for our country, and one of the ways the government thanks them for their service is with the VA loan program, which allows both past and current military personnel a better option for financing.

Originally established in 1944 as part of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, a VA loan is available for any individual who has served in active duty in any branch of the U.S. military for a minimum of 90 days, and it has helped millions of people and their families purchase a home.

In addition to servicemen and servicewoman, non-active duty personnel, such as individuals in the Army Reserves or National Guard, may apply for a VA-backed mortgage, provided they have completed six years of service. The spouses of deceased or missing military members are also eligible if they have not remarried.

The major advantage of a VA loan is that it doesn’t require a down payment. It also doesn’t have private mortgage insurance. It does require the borrower to pay a one-time funding fee on their purchase, which can be paid up front or financed into the total cost of the loan. The funding fee for regular military members is 2.15 percent of the loan. Reservists pay a fee of 2.40 percent.

According to recent figures by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, more people took advantage of the program in 2013 than ever before, with close to 630,000 VA loans given out. This was mostly due to historically low interest rates.

Still, many veterans, especially those discharged years ago, often don’t realize that such a benefit exists. That’s why the Department of Veteran’s Affairs has increased its efforts to let veterans know about the VA loan program, and all the benefits it offers.

To qualify, borrowers must show enough monthly income after paying personal debts and housing costs to meet “residual income” levels set by the department. A VA loan must be for a primary residence and the limits on the amount someone can get are based on area median home prices. The 2014 limits range from $417,500 to $1,094,625.

One other important note: borrowers who received a dishonorable discharge from any military branch are not eligible.

To learn more about the VA loan program, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Financing Options to Bridge the Gap between Selling and Buying

September 12, 2014 5:39 pm

The home-buying and -selling process can sometimes be a precarious thing as most sellers need to sell their house before having the money to buy a new space. But what happens if you stumble upon your dream house before coming to contract for a sale?

If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll want to explore gap financing options, which will allow you get the money for a new home, without having to rush into a sale of your own.

Home equity loans are one way to do this, but even more common today is what’s known as a bridge loan, or a temporary loan that “bridges” the gap between the sales price of a new home and a buyer’s new mortgage.

A bridge loan is secured to the buyer’s existing home with the money made available to be used as a down payment on the new home.

The way it works is interest on a bridge loan is paid up front for six months, relieving the buyer from having to make two house payments until their home sells. When the old home sells, the loan’s principal balance—and any accrued interest from sale proceeds—is then paid off.

Interest rates will vary depending upon the credit rating of the borrower, however, bridge loan interest rates tend to be higher than other loans, and such rates typically increase periodically over the initial term of the loan. Typically, a bridge loan is good for six months, but they can extend up to 12 months.

Many lenders also add a due-and-payable-upon-sale clause, which states that the loan must be paid when your old home is legally sold, regardless of any previous term stipulations.

For borrowers who can make both payments comfortably, the additional cost of paying for a refinance to create the bridge loan often outweighs the payment on a second mortgage for a few months.

Of course, there’s always the risk that your home doesn’t sell and you’ll be stuck paying two mortgages once the bridge loan expires. But if you’re confident in your home’s selling prospects, it’ll keep you from accepting any bid that comes your way, affording you the luxury of waiting for the best deal.

To learn more about gap financing options, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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In this Edition: VA Loans

September 12, 2014 5:39 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 gap financing options and how they can help sellers get money for a new home without having to rush into a sale of their own. Other topics covered this month include the rising popularity of home theater rooms and how planning ahead can save both time and money when moving day arrives. 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.


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Ten Reasons Why Children Should Volunteer

September 12, 2014 1:39 am

Back-to-school season ushers in a renewed focus on everything from academics to athletics, but many parents are challenged to find positive ways for their kids to spend time when they're not at school. The best way to keep them occupied is through volunteer work.

"Volunteering with your kids touches hearts, teaches important life lessons and engraves fond, lifelong memories of family bonding," said Leigh Ann Errico, CEO and founder of Wear the Cape and the kidkind foundation. "Understanding and participating in activities to benefit the community is crucial to weaving one's moral fiber."

Here, Wear the Cape organizers outline the top 10 reasons why children should volunteer:

1: Volunteering helps foster empathy.
Empathy is the most critical disposition for responding to the needs of others. We need to be able to imagine what other people may be going through or feeling. Volunteering helps engage our natural empathic sense, but you have to make sure that there are opportunities to talk about the purpose and experience of any volunteer activity if the recipients aren't visible in the process. For example, making sandwiches for the homeless isn’t the same as delivering those sandwiches to the homeless.

2: Volunteering helps develop a sense of self-efficacy.
Children may understand that other people need help or that there are projects that could make a community more habitable or productive, but feel helpless or unclear that an individual can do anything about it in response. Volunteering can provide experiences that affirm a young person's sense that they can make a difference through their own effort and skills. These experiences can empower young people to apply themselves in other contexts, including school and other organized activities, such as faith-based youth groups or scouting.

3: Volunteers gain experience working with other people.
Social skills are best learned in social situations. When people come together to engage in a meaningful task, issues of communication, power, collaboration and trust rise to the surface in a supportive context. It's easier, although still a challenge, to learn to navigate these waters with others who may be more skillful and be in a position to offer supportive feedback. It's a good way for parents and children to see each other in a different light, as well, and learn together.

4: Volunteering develops new skills.
In addition to social skills, using physical and mental capabilities to get jobs done is fundamental to successful work of any kind. In school, these skills are often fragmented or unrelated to real-world applications. Service activities offer the chance to apply and test our abilities, as well as learn from other kids or adults in a way that engages kids' natural drive for competence.

5: Volunteering provides the opportunity to explore new interests and develop new passions.
There is nothing more exhilarating than discovering a new field of interest that sparks a real passion for learning and doing. One of the wonderful things about being children is their inquisitiveness and motivation to investigate and find meaning. Service activities have the potential to expose them to these opportunities and see how other people live their passions.

6: Volunteers learn a lot.
In the process of joining with others in service, volunteers learn about their community and the larger world. It takes children out of their own spheres of self-interest and exposes them to issues and solutions, as well as other people's needs.

7: Volunteers actually make a difference in other people's lives.
Think about how much more impoverished our communities would be if all of the volunteer services disappeared. This is a lesson that children can be taught early and take with them into adulthood. For example, volunteers are critical in:
  • Helping families (daycare and eldercare)
  • Improving schools (tutoring, literacy)
  • Supporting youth (mentoring and after-school programs)
  • Beautifying the community (beach and park cleanups)
8: Volunteering encourages civic responsibility.
Community service and volunteerism are a way to teach the importance of investing in the community and the people who live in it. We want our kids to not only be successful in their work and personal lives, but to learn what it means to be a citizen. The American values of democratic decision-making, social justice and equal opportunity require active participation.

9: Volunteering offers you a chance to give back.
It's important for children to see that there are small and large opportunities to support community resources that their family uses or that benefit people they care about. Whether it's offering to help man a booth to support improvements in a park they use, or joining a fundraising walk to support research for a disease that afflicts a family member or friend, children and adults alike can feel empowered through participation.

10: Volunteering is good for you.
Research has consistently shown that acting altruistically has real benefits. Volunteering provides physical and mental rewards. It has been shown to reduce stress, make you healthier and make you happier.

Source: Wear the Cape

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Flood Cleanup: What to Do After a Storm

September 12, 2014 1:39 am

With forecasters predicting a more severe and dramatic storm season in 2014, home and business owners should be prepared for any type of weather. The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, Restoration and Certification (IICRC) offers a quick-reference guide for flood cleanup.

“When it comes to storms, education is essential,” said IICRC Chairman Tony Wheelwright. “We want to make sure homeowners and business owners have access to these materials so they are able to act quickly and correctly when the time comes.”

The IICRC recommends taking these steps:

1. Prepare before.
If a storm in your area is imminent and you are at a high risk for flooding, make sure you are prepared. Before the storm hits, gather valuable items or documents and store them in a secure, dry place. Clear all debris from gutters and downspouts and check your sump pump to ensure it is working properly. You will also want to remove items from lower floors or raise them up off of the floor to help minimize damage to property.

2. Stay cautious.
Prior to entering any storm or flood-damaged building, be wary of structural integrity and other safety hazards, such as falling debris or shock hazards. Make sure to shut off all electricity in the affected areas, even if the electricity is down, as it is oftentimes restored without notice.

Also, make sure that you have the proper personal protective equipment and try to stay out of floodwaters as much as possible to further reduce the risk of injury. Items such as protective clothing, sturdy shoes, gloves, eye protection and an organic vapor respirator (paint respirator) can protect you from exposure to dangerous microorganisms that can grow quickly.

3. Work quickly. Even though it can take mold a few days to appear, anything that can be done to control or minimize its speed of growth is vital. Mold thrives in moist environments with stale air, organic food sources (paper, wood) and temperatures between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. To reduce these risks, keep air moving by opening windows and doors. Fresh air discourages the growth of mold and other microorganisms and can also help reduce inhalation risks.

4. Clean and disinfect everything. The first step in the cleanup process is to remove and dispose of all, wet porous components such as mattresses, pillows, molding, insulation and portions of damaged walls. This also includes floor coverings such as carpet, pads, laminate, tile and sheet vinyl. Wood flooring should also be removed to expose wet saturation pockets underneath and allow for proper drying, cleaning and sanitizing.

Other items such as wet clothing, furniture and household fabrics can usually be salvageable after a hot machine wash, a lengthy detergent soak and the liberal use of a disinfectant solution. Structural areas such as wall cavities, studs and other fixtures will also need to be properly disinfected. This can be done by pressure washing with detergent solutions working from top to bottom.

5. Dry it out. The next step is to allow the space to dry thoroughly before reconstruction. This is possibly the most difficult step for home and business owners because even if a surface feels dry to the touch, that doesn’t mean it is. Dryness is very difficult to measure and often requires a professional moisture assessment.

Beginning your reconstruction before your space is thoroughly dry can cause dry rot, ongoing structural damage and negative health effects. In most cases, the above procedures may require the assistance of a professional. Water damage restoration companies employ trained technicians who specialize in cleaning, biocides, extraction, drying and moisture measuring. Make sure, however, that the company you choose has proper licensing, liability insurance and employs trained technicians in water restoration services.

Source: IICRC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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