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

Majority of Americans in the Driver's Seat When Buying a Vehicle

September 8, 2014 1:27 am

The majority of Americans demand explicit control during the car shopping process, opting to use independent automotive research sites and experience-based activities, such as visiting a dealership and talking with friends, rather than traditional advertising channels, to navigate the process of buying a car. According to a recent study by C+R Research, car shoppers rely only on a handful of trustworthy resources when researching and purchasing a vehicle.

"Consumers can be overwhelmed by automotive content, but rather than tune it all out, they're selecting the pieces that are most valuable to them, effectively curating their own car buying experience," said Simon Tiffen, senior manager of advertiser insights at Cars.com. "They're willing to put the time in to gather all the information they need so that they're confident when they eventually head to the dealership."

From TV and radio advertisements to independent research sites and offline conversations, consumers are inundated with auto-related messages throughout the car shopping process; however, the majority of consumers report using only one or two sources to make a decision. These "go-to" sources are typically viewed as the most helpful and trustworthy by consumers.

Additionally, offline experiences, not offline advertisements, impact consumers. The most influential offline information sources are experience-based and include talking to friends, visiting a dealership and noticing a vehicle on the street.

More importantly, online research has become a substitute for dealership contact. Only half of all car shoppers reported contacting a dealership prior to visiting, with most citing that they felt it was unnecessary given the information available online.

Knowing when to leverage each source is equally important. The study found that online sources are more influential earlier in the shopping process, while offline sources, such as visiting a dealership, become more important once primary online research has been conducted.

Source: Cars.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Few Homebuyers Familiar with Affordable Loan Programs

September 8, 2014 1:27 am

A recent TD bank survey reveals that just one in five homebuyers are familiar with affordable loan programs. Findings from the survey fuel growing concerns among real estate professionals that lenders are not providing enough information to borrowers about the programs. Of the 150 real estate professionals surveyed, 70 percent expressed a desire for lenders to make affordable loans, such as FHA and VA loans, easier to access.

According to the survey, only 20 percent of homebuyers are even aware that such programs exist. Real estate professionals reported that 64 percent of buyers consulted them for guidance during the lending process, spending an average of 2.5 hours discussing loan options. Nearly 80 percent recommended a lender.

The survey also concludes:
  • More than half of the real estate professionals surveyed believe buyers are compromising their wants in order to buy a home quickly.
  • Real estate professionals consider a number of factors when recommending a lender – the most important of which is closing time. Other factors include understanding of buyer needs, non-commitment to pre-approval rates, and not overpromising.
  • Eighty percent of real estate professionals believe mortgage-focused banks are easier to work with.
With 40 percent of real estate professionals believing it is now more difficult than ever to secure a loan, it is crucial for homebuyers, especially first-timers, to educate themselves through the help of a professional. For more about affordable loan programs, visit makinghomeaffordable.gov.

Source: Real Trends

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Prepare for an Emergency in Four Simple Steps

September 8, 2014 1:27 am

(Family Features) Preparing for an unexpected emergency, especially one brought on by severe weather, is one of the most important ways you can protect your home and family. Proactively addressing storm-related issues ranging from property damage to power outages can minimize a potentially disastrous situation.

Step 1: Verify Your Homeowners Insurance Covers Storm Damage

Nearly all homeowners carry some form of insurance on their home, as required by their mortgage lender. But policies can vary, and the aftermath of a powerful storm is no time to find out you’re underinsured.

To ensure your homeowners policy adequately covers your needs, take time to review the policy every year at renewal time, and any time you make any significant improvements to your home. Check that the coverage amount for your main residence accurately reflects the finished square footage of your home, including any upgrades or changes. Confirm that the replacement cost your homeowners insurance agent has determined is consistent with what you would expect to pay to rebuild your home.

In addition, take time to understand any exclusions, especially those for weather-related incidents. For example, many homeowners insurance policies do not automatically include flood protection.

Finally, take time to thoroughly document your personal possessions with video or still images and record their value. Store the documentation in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box or remote-access electronic file, that you will be able to access in the event of an emergency. Not only will this help expedite your claim if you need to replace items, but you’ll have a list ready when you face the daunting task of replacing your belongings.

Step 2: Keep Up With Home Maintenance

Stepping outside after a significant storm is no time to remember that you forgot to trim a tree or secure a loose section of fencing. Making time to provide ongoing home maintenance for exterior features of your home, such as landscaping, decking, siding, roofing and shutters, will ensure they are in good condition when bad weather strikes.

While little can be done to prevent damage from high-impact storms, routinely checking that everything is in good repair will minimize the chances of preventable destruction.

As you assess your home and yard, ask yourself: Are the trees and shrubs properly trimmed and set far enough away from structures that they are unlikely to topple in high winds? Are shutters affixed securely to the house? Are there any cracked or otherwise weakened windows that should be replaced to prevent shattering during a storm?

Step 3: Prepare for Backup Power during an Outage

Loss of power is one of the most common occurrences in severe weather. And the financial impact of outage-related expenses (e.g. spoiled food replacement, supply purchases or home repair) can add up quickly.

The easiest way to prepare for a weather-related power outage is by installing a standby generator in advance of the storm season. Fortunately, attaining the safety and comfort provided by a standby generator during a storm event has become more reasonable thanks to emerging technology that has made generators smaller, smarter and more affordable.

4. Have an Emergency Preparedness Kit

Having an emergency preparedness kit of items that your household may need in an emergency situation is critical. Basic utilities such as electricity, gas, water, sewage and phone service may be unavailable after a storm strikes, so the kit should contain food, water, any necessary medications, lighting and backup battery supplies.

Source: GE Generator Systems

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgage Rates Hold Steady

September 5, 2014 1:18 am

Freddie Mac released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates largely steady for the third straight week.

"Mortgage rates were little changed amid a week of light economic reports. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate remained unchanged from the previous week at 4.10 percent,” notes Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. “Of the few releases, the ISM's manufacturing index rose to 59.0 in August from 57.1 the previous month. This was the highest reading of the index since March 2011.”

30-year-fixed-rate mortgages (FRM) averaged 4.10 percent with an average of 0.5 point for the week ending September 4, 2014, unchanged from last week. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.57 percent.

15-year FRMs this week averaged 3.24 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.25 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.59 percent.

5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.97 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, unchanged from last week. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.28 percent.

1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.40 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.39 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.71 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Study: First-Time Homebuyers Seek Ideal Agent Relationship

September 5, 2014 1:18 am

A client’s relationship with his or her real estate agent will largely determine how satisfied that customer is in the home buying or selling experience. Among first-time buyers, there is a strong need for agents to keep them comfortable and informed and offer a seamless process, according to the J.D. Power 2014 Home Buyer/Seller Satisfaction Study.

The study measures customer satisfaction among first-time and repeat home buyers and sellers with the nation’s largest real estate companies. Overall satisfaction is measured across four factors of the home-buying experience: agent/salesperson; real estate office; closing process; and variety of additional services. For satisfaction in the home-selling experience, the same four factors are evaluated plus a fifth factor, marketing.

Key data from the study conclude that although the agent-client relationship is the most important factor in determining satisfaction with buyers, for sellers, marketing of the home is the most important factor. This is because it is easier for sellers to assess how an agent is supporting the sale through tangible marketing efforts.

Overall satisfaction with real estate companies is higher among repeat customers, compared with first-time buyers or sellers. Buyers and sellers also tend to choose a real estate firm based on its reputation (30 percent of buyers, 35 percent of sellers), past experience with the agent (21 percent of buyers, 25 percent of sellers), and recommendations (24 percent of buyers, 21 percent of sellers).

Other findings include: the 2014 average listing price, $200,000, remains unchanged from 2013, the average number of open houses per listing is three, and the average number of showings to sell a home is nearly eight times.

Source: J.D. Power

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Don't Move!...without Following This Important Advice from BBB

September 5, 2014 1:18 am

I know that along with tax time, changing a job, and the holidays, one of the most stressful events for consumers is moving into a new dwelling. According to my sources at Connecticut Better Business Bureau, consumers who are not careful can end up with a nightmare that can take weeks or months to resolve.

BBB says consumers across the nation filed 10,762 complaints against moving and storage companies in 2013, for issues including lost or missing possessions, damaged furniture and other belongings, damage to the dwelling caused during a move, rude customer service, charges that greatly exceeded an estimate, and difficulty obtaining compensation for damaged and lost goods.

In the worst cases, consumers have had their belongings “held hostage” until they paid additional fees.

While the majority of moving companies are reputable, anyone with a truck and a website can claim to be a professional mover, according to BBB.

But the three most common reasons for problems with moving companies are consumers’ failure to thoroughly research the mover’s credentials, not preparing far enough in advance, and not buying sufficient insurance to cover their belongings.

BBB says most moving problems can be avoided by following a few tips:
  • Obtain three in-home estimates. Telephone estimates are notoriously unreliable. Reputable movers will want to see the layout of your rooms and furniture, as well as any obstacles on the way to the truck.
  • Know your rights. All movers are obliged to provide consumers with a document called “Your Rights and Responsibilities When Your Move.” It can also be found at ProtectYourMove.gov. Contact BBB and local law enforcement if the moving company fails to live up to its promises or threatens to hold your belongings hostage.
  • Plan early - 37 million Americans move every year, most often in May. Lock in a date two to four weeks before your move.
  • Understand the limits of standard insurance.
Make certain you know who you are dealing with. Look up a prospective mover’s registration at fmcsa.dot.gov, which is operated by the US Department of Transportation.

In addition, research movers at bbb.org to check other consumers’ experience and see whether there is a pattern of complaints against a particular mover.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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9 Back-to-School Morning Hacks

September 4, 2014 1:15 am

Mornings on school days can be mayhem for families. In fact, nearly half of moms say that their children run out of time to get ready in the morning, often skipping breakfast to catch a ride to school. Beat the meltdown and ensure your child eats a well-balanced breakfast with these morning hacks.

1. Stage a path to the door the night before so everyone knows where they're going.

2. Select outfits at night. Be sure to check weather in advance and plan accordingly.

3. Pack lunches ahead of time. After dinner, pack the non-chilled items in the lunchbox and leave it on the counter for quick packing of cold items in the morning.

4. Brush teeth and wash face in the morning shower, or take baths the night before.

5. Sunshine helps you wake up. Open the shades and let the light in.

6. Place jackets and backpacks in a central location to grab on the way out. Use a hanging shoe organizer with pockets to keep essentials and accessories by the door.

7. Reward with what works for your child. For example, electronics and other activities they get to do in the car.

8. Motivate and track time with a music playlist. Everything is more fun and moves more quickly with tunes, and you can track how much time has passed.

9. Care for yourself. Have a workout bag in the car and consider getting up earlier to have some personal time before the day gets going.

Source: Johnsonville Foods

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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CFPB Cautions Use of Virtual Currencies

September 4, 2014 1:15 am

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) cautions the use of virtual currencies like Bitcoin, citing potential issues such as unclear costs, volatile exchange rates, scams and hacking, and companies that may not offer help or refund. The CFPB adds that anyone who encounters a problem with a virtual currency product or service can now submit a complaint with the Bureau.

“Virtual currencies may have benefits, but consumers need to be cautious and they need to be asking the right questions,” says CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Virtual currencies are not backed by any government or central bank, and at this point, consumers are stepping into the Wild West when they engage in the market.”

Virtual currencies are designed to be an alternative to current payment systems. Better-known virtual currencies include Bitcoin, XRP, and Dogecoin. Often referred to in the industry as “digital currencies,” they are a way for people to track, store, and send payments over the Internet, and they may make payment processing cheaper or faster. However, they are not backed by any government or central bank. In addition, because virtual currency accounts are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, if a virtual currency company fails – and many have – the government will not cover the loss.

Virtual currency companies are springing up around the world to offer products and services to consumers. There are virtual currency exchanges, which are companies that help consumers buy or sell virtual currencies. There are also online “digital wallet providers,” which are companies that allow consumers to create accounts with them to store and manage their virtual currencies. Many virtual currency exchanges are also wallet providers, and vice versa.

Virtual currencies carry significant risk, including:

Exchange rates are volatile and costs unclear: The exchange rate of Bitcoins to U.S. dollars in 2013 fell as much as 61 percent in a single day. In 2014, the value of Bitcoins has dropped by as much as 80 percent in a single day. Consumers who buy virtual currencies should be prepared to weather this kind of volatility. Consumers should also consider whether there are mark-ups or other fees when using an exchange or digital wallet provider. Companies may be charging consumers to buy, spend, or accept virtual currencies.

Hackers and scammers pose serious security threats: Virtual currencies are targets for highly sophisticated hackers and scammers. Individuals, digital wallet providers, and exchanges are all at risk. For example, if a hacker gains access to a consumer’s Bitcoin “private keys,” which are 64-character codes that unlock the consumer’s funds, the consumer can lose all their virtual currency. Fraudsters are also taking advantage of the hype surrounding virtual currencies to pose as Bitcoin exchanges, Bitcoin intermediaries, and Bitcoin traders in an effort to lure consumers to send money, which is then stolen.

Companies may not offer help or refunds for lost or stolen funds: Some virtual currency companies do not identify their owners, provide phone numbers and addresses, or even specify the country in which they are located. Before using a company’s products or services, consumers should carefully consider if they know how to contact the company in question, and if they know their contractual rights. If a consumer trusts a company to hold their virtual currencies and something goes wrong, the company may not offer the kind of help the consumer would expect from a bank, debit card, or credit card provider. In fact, some virtual currency companies disclaim responsibility for consumer losses if funds are lost or stolen.

Source: CFPB

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Home Entertaining: Fall Dinnerware Trends

September 4, 2014 1:15 am

(BPT) - Autumn leaves bursting into vibrant reds, lively oranges, and brilliant yellows signal a new season for home entertaining. If you need a little inspiration, look no further than your favorite outdoor spot to update your table setting with the hottest colors for fall 2014.

“Contemporary versions of classic colors are trending in the interior design realm this fall,” says John Griffith, visual merchandiser for dinnerware retailer Replacements, Ltd. Customers frequently ask Griffith and his in-house designer for creative guidance to refresh their family heirloom pattern table settings.

“Vintage dinnerware continues to be one of the trendiest design elements in the tabletop industry,” says Griffith. “Why buy a reproduction when the real thing is readily available? Search your mother or grandmother’s china cabinet to find some of the great retro patterns. Add your own point of view when you mix and match contemporary designs to create a modern look. It’s really simple to add an accent plate, or a stand-out charger in this season’s colors to update your table for fall entertaining.”

Figural pieces, such as leaf shaped plates and serving pieces, are also very popular. Many manufacturers are offering colorful accent pieces with favorites including turkey, leaves and pumpkin motifs.

The important thing to remember is that as the season changes, so does entertaining. Gatherings may be more casual as friends and family get together around the television for the big game or by the fire pit on the patio.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Not Enough Juice From Your Gas Tank? Replace These Parts

September 3, 2014 1:12 am

Drivers everywhere can benefit from better gas mileage. Aside from saving at the pump, a well-maintained vehicle can also save you money spent on a new model. If you’ve noticed a spike on your gas receipts, it may be time to replace parts in your car that affect fuel efficiency – your tires, spark plugs, air filter and mass air flow and oxygen sensors.

Tires – Check tire pressure at least once a month. Worn or underinflated tires reduce traction, affecting your vehicle’s handling capabilities.

Spark plugs – Help your engine run cleanly (and more efficiently) by replacing the spark plugs, which ignite air and fuel in the combustion chamber.

Air filter
– Dirty air filters are most common in cars that are 10 years or older, so replace yours immediately if you’ve owned your vehicle for a long period of time.

Mass air flow sensor – A dirty sensor transmits inaccurate readings, causing issues with your transmission, ignition and fuel injection.

Oxygen sensor – Switch out this sensor when it gets dirty, too. Faulty readings lead to incorrect fuel injection levels. Auto experts recommend replacement when your car reaches 100,000 miles.

Source: Bankrate

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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