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

HUD: Veteran Homelessness Drops 33 Percent

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) recently released a new national estimate of veteran homelessness in the United States. Data collected during the annual Point-in-Time Count conducted in January 2014 shows there were 49,933 homeless veterans in America, a decline of 33 percent (or 24,837 people) since 2010.

HUD, VA, USICH, and local partners have used evidenced-based practices like Housing First and federal resources like HUD-VASH (the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher program) to get veterans off the street and into stable housing as quickly as possible. Since 2008, the HUD-VASH program has served a total of 74,019 veterans.

The federal government has provided significant new resources to help communities pursue the goal of ending homelessness among veterans. Communities that target these resources strategically are making significant progress and can end veteran homelessness in their communities in 2015. These strategies include:
  • Using a Housing First approach, which removes barriers to help veterans obtain permanent housing as quickly as possible, without unnecessary prerequisites.
  • Prioritizing the most vulnerable veterans—especially those experiencing chronic homelessness—for permanent supportive housing opportunities, including those created through the HUD-VASH program.
  • Coordinating outreach efforts to identify and engage every veteran experiencing homelessness and focus outreach efforts on achieving housing outcomes.
  • Targeting rapid re-housing interventions, including those made possible through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, toward veterans who need shorter-term rental subsidies and services in order to be reintegrated back into our communities.
  • Leveraging other housing and services resources that can help veterans who are ineligible for some of the VA’s programs get into stable housing.
  • Increasing early detection and access to preventive services so at‐risk veterans remain stably housed.
  • Closely monitoring progress toward the goal, including the success of programs achieving permanent housing outcomes.
  • Aligning local goals and strategies with Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
“We have an obligation to ensure that every veteran has a place to call home,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. “In just a few years, we have made incredible progress reducing homelessness among veterans, but we have more work to do. HUD will continue collaborating with our federal and local partners to ensure that all of the men and women who have served our country have a stable home and an opportunity to succeed.”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs and our federal and local partners should be proud of the gains made reducing Veterans’ homelessness,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, “but so long as there remains a Veteran living on our streets, we have more work to do.”

“As a nation, we have proven that homelessness is a problem we can solve,” said U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director Laura Green Zeilinger. “Communities all across the country are meeting this costly tragedy with urgency and a focus on helping all veterans and their families achieve safe and stable housing.”

Source: HUD

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How Overwatering Your Lawn Can Cost You

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

Overwatering your lawn is not only detrimental to your water bill, but can also disrupt the ecosystem, advises the Environmental Protection Agency. Healthy lawns are inhibited by too much saturation, so skip the daily sprinkler and water only when necessary. Here’s why:

Root damage
- Your lawn only needs one inch of water a week in growing season, and overwatering can encourage growth of root systems that are shallow, not strong.

Weed growth - Weeds thrive in moist conditions, and an overwatered lawn prevents oxygen from reaching the roots, which leaves the grass vulnerable to insects and plant diseases.

Environmental effects
– Overwatering can lead to runoff, which carries fertilizers and pesticides into storm drains and larger public waterways.

If you notice your lawn is turning brown in color, don’t panic. This signals the start of a natural dormant period, which is not at all harmful to your lawn.

To cut back on watering, consider scaling down the size of your lawn by planting trees, shrubs and other ground coverings. In addition, richer soil holds water for longer stretches of time, so add mulch or compost to conserve even more.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Five Steps to Building a Better Credit Score

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

According to a recent survey by BMO Harris Bank, the majority of Americans (80 percent) across all ages say they are knowledgeable about how to achieve a good credit rating. Half check their score once a year, while 30 percent check it every few years or less. One fifth do not know their score.

On average, Americans believe a good credit score is 660. Among millennials, that number drops to 625, and those aged 35-54 and 55 and older believe a good score is 675.

Overall findings indicate that while most Americans believe they have a solid understanding of what a good credit score is, there is confusion around attaining it. Harris offers a number of basic tips to manage and improve a credit score, including:

Check your credit report. This should be done at least 60-90 days before applying for a loan in order to make sure that the report is correct. If it is incorrect, notify a credit agency before you apply for a loan. Checking your score will not change the number.

Pay your bills on time.
When a bill is paid late, or is even 30 days past due, it can show up on your credit report for up to seven years.

Use credit when needed.
If you never use credit of any kind, it doesn't mean that you'll have a great credit history. Lenders generally prefer to see some type of satisfactory payment history.

Use your cards lightly. Racking up big balances can hurt your scores, regardless of whether you pay your bills in full each month. You often can increase your score by paying the balance off and keeping it low.

Consider that credit needs to be built up. A credit score is something that can take time to improve, so don't expect immediate changes and plan ahead. Your credit behavior can take months to be reflected in your score.

"The good news here is most Americans are not far off in what they believe is considered a good score, which we generally tell customers is in the 680-720 range. However, there's some room for improvement," notes Alex Dousmanis-Curtis, Head of Retail Banking, BMO Harris Bank. "Encouraging education around credit scores is a major focus for us. A credit score stays with you as you go through your financial life, and can impact major decisions.”

Survey results cited in this report are from interviews with an online sample of 1,004 Americans conducted between July 2nd and July 4th, 2014. The margin of error for a probability sample of this size is ± 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

Source: BMO Harris Bank

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What Can Happen If Your Child Skips School?

August 21, 2014 12:12 pm

With the new school year starting soon, school districts are reminding parents that truancy isn't just the student's and school's problem, but may have serious ramifications for parents as well.

Truancy is the legal name for skipping school. In most states, truancy occurs whenever a student a certain age or under (17 in most states, 16 in some) is absent from school without an excuse from a parent or guardian. Although skipping school is often romanticized in pop culture, according to U.S. News & World Report, school districts are cracking down on both truant students and their parents.

So what can happen if your child skips school?

Discipline for 'Truant' Students

Though truancy refers to skipping school in general, a "truant" is generally a child who has skipped school more than the number of times allowed by a particular school district.

Students who are considered truant will be subject to discipline by the school district, which can include being barred from participating in sports or other activities, suspension, or even expulsion from the school. Increasingly, however, schools are getting tough on truancy by also referring truancy cases to juvenile courts.

In Arizona's Pima County, for example, a student who has three unexcused absences from school is referred to the Center for Juvenile Alternatives, which works with the county's juvenile court system to offer the student, and the student's parents, the choice of a diversion program or court-ordered sanctions.

Criminal Charges against Parents May Be Possible

An increasing number of states are also filing criminal charges against the parents of truant children.

For example, dozens of parents in Baltimore were sentenced to jail for their children's chronic truancy. And one California mother was sentenced to 180 days in county jail after her two kids missed a total of 116 days of school in 2011.

A couple in Virginia even faced criminal charges after their kids were repeatedly tardy for school. The couple faced up to $3,000 in fines under Virginia's truancy laws after their children were late to school 85 times over the course of several months.

Withdrawing Your Child from School

If you're dissatisfied with your school's curriculum, treatment of your child, or rules regarding truancy, one option is to withdraw your child from public school altogether.

Although withdrawing your child from public school will allow you to homeschool your child, you may still be responsible for adhering to any state laws regarding truancy as they apply to homeschooled children.

Source: Findlaw.com. 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Top Six Most Useful Kitchen Additions

August 21, 2014 12:12 pm

Modern kitchens are generally built with space and convenience in mind. But if you’re living with an older kitchen, there are easy additions you may want to consider to maximize available space and cooking area.

The Wall St. Journal’s home and living editors provide their top six suggestions:

  • Kitchen island – A kitchen island can double or triple both food preparation and storage space. An inexpensive portable island can give you space and flexibility.
  • Wall oven – It’s a lot easier to baste a turkey at eye level than it is when it’s below the stove – and there’s something to be said for the extra elbow room it will give you when you are multi-tasking in the kitchen. Lastly, a wall oven with two compartments gives you extra baking space and the availability of convection or rotisserie options.
  • Cabinet organizers/lazy susans/pullout shelves – Easy access to pantry items and pots and pans make food preparation easier and faster. Consider having lazy susans, pull-out shelves and other organizers built into your kitchen cabinets.
  • Pot and pan racks – If cabinet space is an issue, think about wall-mounted racks to keep you most-used pots and pans within easy reach. A trip to the home store or a look online will yield plenty of options.
  • Dishwashers – Today’s large capacity and energy-efficient dishwashers are a boon to the family cook. Install one if you don’t already have one built in – or replace the one you have if it’s more than seven or eight years old.
  • Ventilation system – Experts say that cooking churns out airborne contaminants like nothing else in the home – and even food that smells great while it’s cooking doesn’t smell so good hours or days later. With the right ventilation system, odors and contaminants will become a thing of the past.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Ways to Maximize Space

April 17, 2013 7:18 pm

Chances are, whether you’re a buyer or a seller, there’s at least one room in your home that you wish could be bigger. We don’t blame you. After all, who couldn’t use more space? But, before you pick up that sledge hammer and start moving walls, keep reading. This week, we have tips on how to get the most out of the space you already have.

Pick the Right Color: In this case, lighter paint colors are the clear winner. While darker colors may have more personality, they also have a tendency to leave the room feeling closed off and a tad claustrophobic. Remember, when selling, neutrals are also key. If possible, your best bet is to continue the light shade into adjacent rooms, so that it tricks the eye into believing the space continues. 

Let the Light In: Natural light can do wonders for opening up a room. It essentially helps the room to visually connect with the wide open outdoors.  So open up those curtains! If no natural light is available, try to make light cover as much of the space as possible. Reassessed lighting is great for filling in hard to reach corners.   

Add a Mirror: We’re sure you’ve heard of this one, but it’s an old standby for a reason. Just make sure to focus the mirror directly across from the focal point of the room and you’ll add a ton of visual space to the room in seconds.

Keep It Simple: Obviously, you’ll want to limit furniture and accessories to the essentials. You want the room to have as much open space as you can get. If you’re feeling extra fancy, go for duel-purpose or modular pieces. That way, you can minimize clutter while maximizing functionality and storage. 

Clean, Clean, Clean: We know we say this a lot, but it’s really self-explanatory. Any room will look much more open when there isn’t clothes on the floor and clutter in the corners. 


3 Tips to Sell Your Home Fast

April 3, 2013 11:45 am

Regardless of whether you have a new job offer or just want to get a jumpstart on retirement, sometimes you need to sell your home as fast as possible. Selling can seem daunting enough without the extra pressure of a time crunch, but don’t fret! This week, we’ve got tips to help sell your home in the blink of an eye. 

Be Realistic on Price:  We know that selling your home is emotional. You paid a lot for it and then put your blood, sweat, and tears into improvements, it makes sense that you’d want to get everything back. Unfortunately, though, markets change and that may not be possible. Our best advice is to listen to your realtor on this one. She knows what comparable homes are going for in the area and will give you a fair estimate. Remember, well-priced homes move while overpriced ones tend to sit.

Offer Incentives: If you really want to move in a hurry, you need to make your home as enticing as possible to buyers. One way to do that is to offer some extras. Consider whether it might be worth it to offer to pay the buyers’ closing costs. Alternatively, consider leaving behind the washer and dryer or the big screen TV that fits perfectly over the mantle. 

Be Flexible: As we’ve said before, getting out the door for showings can be a hassle, but we promise it’s beyond worth the trouble! The more willing that you are to let people come through your home – even if it’s at a moments notice – the more traffic it gets. Think of it this way, people can’t submit an offer on a home that the seller won’t let them see.   


Spring Cleaning Checklist

March 20, 2013 4:02 pm

Spring has finally arrived! It’s time to shake off those winter cobwebs and usher in a fresh start. Regardless if you’re looking to sell in the next few months or if this is your forever home, a little spring cleaning is a great way to give your home a rejuvenated feel. To make this process a snap, we’ve compiled a handy room-by-room list of chores that will leave you feeling squeaky clean.

All Rooms:

  •       Vacuum
  •        Scrub floors
  •        Dust (including baseboards, if you’re feeling industrious)
  •        Wash windows
  •        Replace screens
  •        Open windows to air things out
  •        Wipe down surfaces
  •        Organize shelves
  •        Change light bulbs
  •        Clean out drawers

Bedroom:

  •      Clean under bed
  •        Flip mattress
  •        Wash bedding and swap out flannel for cotton
  •        Trade winter apparel for summer, if you’re short on space
  •        Donate unused clothing

Bathroom:

  •        Clean and reseal grout
  •       Remove water stains
  •        Fix drain clogs
  •        Wash towels and bath mats
  •        Discard old beauty products
  •        Restock travel kits

Kitchen:

  •        Clean out the fridge
  •        Defrost the freezer
  •        Dust refrigerator coils
  •        Clean oven
  •        Clean out and organize food storage containers
  •        Check expiration date on pantry foods

Dining Room:

  •       Polish silver
  •        Organize china cabinet
  •        Hand wash china

Family Room/ Living Room:

  •        Dust curtains
  •        Flip cushions on furniture
  •        Clean fireplace/chimney
  •        Reevaluate placement of photos/knick-knacks
  •        Change batteries on electronics

Home Office:

  •       Clean out filing cabinets
  •        Shred/recycle old paperwork
  •        Install all computer updates
  •        Clean out computer hard drive and back it up
  •        Wipe down phones and keyboards
  •        Invest in fresh office supplies 

Storage Spaces:

  •       Donate unused items
  •        Ensure important items are protected from the elements

Miscellaneous:

  •       Swap out seasonal items  (candles, decorations)
  •        Clean out purses and bags
  •        Restock cleaning supplies


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.

PRO:

·      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

 

CON:

  • ·      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.

PRO:

·      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

CONS:

·      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):

·      http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/buying/loans

·      http://www.fmfcu.org/mortgages/ConventionalvsFHA0310.pdf


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