RE/MAX 440
Mary Mastroeni
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

From Bankruptcy to an 820 Credit Score

February 22, 2012 4:28 pm

That bad credit decision you made in college can haunt you for the rest of your life. However, if you’re smart about it, you can restore your good credit and make things like applying for a loan to purchase a home an easier task.

Writer Kate Raidt of knows all about restoring her good credit. Raidt filed for bankruptcy in 2001, and 10 years later has not only officially removed it from her credit score, but she now has a credit score of an impressive 820! Read on as Raidt lets us in on how she went from one of the worst credit histories a human being can possibly have to one of the top 1 percent of credit scores in America.

First, here are the facts about credit scores:
• A credit score is primarily based on credit report information, typically from one of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Income is not considered by the major credit bureaus when calculating a credit score.
• The most common score comes from FICO and can range from a score of 300-850
• In 2010, the average FICO credit score in America was 723
• Less than 1 percent of Americans have a credit score over 800
• In 2009, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts determined that there were 1,412,838 non-business bankruptcy filings in America that year

Here are the steps Raidt took to re-build her credit and earn a credit score over 800, as written on

1. I had a big “Come to Jesus” wake-up talk with myself. The day I walked into bankruptcy court I swore to myself this will never happen again. Ever. Ever. I had to admit to myself that I was living way beyond my means and my credit card debt was nobody’s fault but my own.

2. I had to completely change my spending habits. Cash only. I had to live by the old rule If you can’t pay cash for it, you can’t afford it! Boy, ain’t that the truth? Every time I walked in a store, I had to ask myself “Do I really need that? Why do I want to buy that? To fill an emotional void? Keep up with the Joneses? Walk away, Kate. Walk away. YOU DON’T NEED THAT.” Today, if it’s not me having this conversation with myself, it’s my husband.

3. I had heard horror stories about people who had filed for bankruptcy who couldn’t get a car or even an apartment to live in. About a year after I filed for bankruptcy, my car was stolen and I had to purchase a new one. The credit manager said my interest rates would be a little higher, but other than this I had no problems buying a car. Years later, I became a homeowner – no problem at all. The lender didn’t even mention my bankruptcy! Why? This takes me to my next step…

4. I was a ninja at repairing my credit. I paid ALL bills on time. I got copies of all three credit reports and found mistakes on all of them that were costing me points. I wrote letters to all three credit bureaus and asked for these mistakes to be removed. Unfortunately, in this country, you have to have debt to have positive credit history. I applied for ONE credit card with a very low limit of only $1,000 and I started playing the credit game: Put very small purchases on a credit card (gas, groceries) and pay it in full every month. If you do this over and over (and never get close to your credit limit), then you will be declared a person who can manage a credit card responsibly and your credit score will fly in a positive direction. If you start to play the credit card game and you see yourself falling into old habits, destroy your credit card immediately and stop the game. The majority of people I know who have filed for bankruptcy end up in even bigger debt 7-10 years later. Why? Because they never learned how to control their spending habits.

5. My final biggest step? I married a man who is a ninja about finances (thank you, Daniel!). He is tougher on me than I am on myself. He never spends what we can’t afford and is a big believer of living below our means (he doesn’t care about the Joneses). Another trap for people trying to get out of debt is that they have a spouse who is a big spender. What if dad was in recovery for alcohol abuse, but mom kept the fridge stocked with Budweiser? How successful do you think dad’s recovery will be? Same rule applies to money. If you are trying to hunker down and get your finances in order, but others around you are sinking your ship, then BOTH of you need a Come to Jesus talk, a Dave Ramsey course or a slap in the rear by Suze Orman.

To read the original article, click here.


Word of the Day

February 22, 2012 4:28 pm

As is. Said of property offered for sale in its present condition with no guarantees as to quality and no promise of repair or fix-up by the seller; property is purchased in exactly the condition in which it is found.


Question of the Day

February 22, 2012 4:28 pm

Q: How do growing equity mortgages work?

A: Also called GEMs, these fixed-rate mortgages have monthly payments that increase in increments of 3 percent or more to reduce the principal loan amount. They are often written by the lender at a below-market interest rate and have shorter terms.

A GEM lets you pay off the mortgage earlier, save tens of thousands of dollars in interest payments, and build equity quickly. A 30-year GEM, depending on the interest rate, can normally be paid off in 15 to 20 years.


What You Need to Know About Buying a Home Security System

February 21, 2012 4:28 pm

Everyone wants to protect their home, their property, and most of all, their families. In fact, market research suggests the home security business is growing at a rate of about 9 percent a year. But home security systems are not all alike.

Some systems can not only warn you of intruders, but can also notify authorities, monitor smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and/or include video surveillance. Mot security alarm installers can provide services that include equipment plus installation and monitoring service.

If you are thinking about buying a home security system, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that you:
• Get references from friends, neighbors or relatives.
• Check out companies online and check the Better Business Bureau for complaints.
• Verify that the contractor’s license is in good standing via the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies.
• Get written estimates from several companies.
• Read the fine print regarding costs, installation timeline, warranty, and an explanation of your right to cancel within three days of signing a contract.
• Ask lots of questions:
• Who will perform the installation and monitor the system? Some companies subcontract this work to a third party.
• What is the contract period for monitoring? One year? More? Are there penalties for early termination? What happens if you move before the contract term is up?
• How much does the monitoring cost? How often will you be billed?
• Does the company call you before notifying the police?
• How soon after the alarm sounds will you be notified?
• What happens if the alarm company can't reach you when the alarm is sounding? Is the alarm reset? Are the police called? Are alternate numbers called?
• What happens if the power goes out? Is there a back-up battery system?
• What does the warranty cover, and for how long? Is it from the manufacturer or their installer?
• Who is responsible for repairs or upgrades to the system?
• Does the company offer interactive services like smoke and fire detection, remote control, video surveillance, email notifications and special apps for smartphones?


Ban Texting, Facebook, In-Car Dialing, Feds Say

February 21, 2012 4:28 pm

Guess what has caught the eye of the U.S. Transportation Department (DOT)? Distracted driving. The agency is calling for automakers to step up and restrict or ban texting, Facebook, Internet browsing, and other electronics in cars.

This news comes as many new vehicles are being built with a variety of electronic options installed in their dashboard. These hands-free devices are often popular additions to vehicles and attractive options for car-buyers.

But these options can become fatal as distracted driving can lead to car accidents. Individuals who take their eyes off the road—even for a split second—could wind up hurt.

According to the NHTSA, there were 3,092 individuals involved in car accidents related to distracted driving in 2010. This accounts for 9.4 percent of fatalities on the road.

And it's possible that with more gadgets in cars, the number will only increase. In fact, there are 29 percent more new cars this year with smartphone and embedded-connectivity units in North America.
For now, the DOT is only urging for voluntary compliance. They believe this will net a faster impact compared with a compulsory rule, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The rules will limit users' ability to key in addresses into navigation systems, input phone numbers, or "visual manual" text message unless the car is stopped, reports USA Today.

The NHTSA is fielding comments and input about their new regulations. The agency will be holding hearings nationwide.

One can only hope the new stance taken by the DOT will reduce distracted driving. However, it remains to be seen whether or not automakers will comply with the voluntary guidelines.



Americans' Financial Optimism Hits Two-Year High

February 21, 2012 4:28 pm

Americans are regaining confidence in their financial security. The COUNTRY Financial Security Index® increased for the third straight month. Higher savings rates and more positivity about debt repayment pushed the reading up one point to 65.8, the highest level since December 2009.

Confidence in several aspects of financial security rose to its highest level in at least two years.

• Half of Americans were able to set aside money for savings, up six points to a three-year high.
• Eighty percent are confident in their ability to pay debts, up three points since December. This is its highest reading since October 2008.
• Americans rating their overall financial security positively increased two points to 41 percent. Confidence in the ability to retire comfortably rose three points to 58 percent. Both are at their highest level since December 2009.

"It's been a while since Americans were feeling this optimistic. Steady improvements since September could signal people are breaking the recession mindset," says Keith Brannan, vice president of Financial Security Planning at COUNTRY Financial. "Now's the time to create or revisit a financial plan that addresses both short- and long-term goals, which can help maintain this optimism."

Middle Income Earners Feel More Secure
While other income groups' financial sentiments remained stable or declined, middle income earners grew more upbeat. Forty-eight percent with an annual household income of $60 - $75K and 53 percent with an income of $75 - $100K rate their overall financial security positively. These are up five and nine points from December, respectively.

30-39 Year Olds Drive Overall Optimism
Of all the age groups, 30 to 39 year olds showed the largest uptick in their confidence this month.
• Fifty-eight percent were able to set aside money for savings, a 15-point jump.
• Sixty-one percent are confident in their ability to retire comfortably, up eight points.

"Financial security is achievable no matter your age or income," adds Brannan. "The key is simply to establish financial goals and stick to them."



National Survey Reveals Renter Moving Plans for 2012

February 21, 2012 4:28 pm

As home values fell again at the end of 2011, more and more people are looking to renting as an affordable, flexible lifestyle option, causing apartment vacancies to fall to their lowest point in 10 years. Reis reported that the apartment vacancy rate dropped to 5.2 percent in Q4 of 2011, down from their reports of 5.6 percent in Q3 of 2011. This higher demand for apartment housing means increased renting costs across the nation. In response to this news, conducted a national survey of more than 3,000 of its January website visitors to find out about their 2012 moving plans, including reasons they are moving, why they are opting to rent versus own, when they plan to move and which tools they value most during their apartment search.

Supporting a growing trend, 33.6 percent of respondents looking for an apartment this year said they are previous homeowners (up from 20.5 percent in 2011). From the survey respondents who said they are homeowners looking to rent in 2012, 26.3 percent are doing so because they believe renting is a more affordable option and 21.2 percent prefer the flexibility renting offers in choosing where to live. provides the five most popular responses their website visitors provided as to why they are choosing to rent versus own in 2012:
1. Renting is a more affordable option: 26.3 percent
2. Flexibility to live where I choose: 21.2 percent
3. To relocate for employment: 20.5 percent
4. Cannot afford to keep up with homeownership expenses: 10.5 percent
5. Lost home due to foreclosure and change in marital status: less than 4 percent each

"The fact that more renters are entering the market continues to create a series of challenges for the potential renter, including fewer apartments to choose from, which can drive rent rates higher," says Chris Brown, vice president of product management, "It's more important than ever for apartment seekers to be informed and savvy shoppers by utilizing all the online resources available to search for apartments within their budget."

More than 35 percent of respondents indicated they are moving out on their own —whether for the first time or back into their own place—which may be a sign of an improving economy and job market, especially in the rental demographic. Reinforcing that idea is the fact that 23 percent of renters surveyed reported they are relocating for employment opportunities—making that the number one reason for moving in 2012, as it was in 2011. However, the desire to have more space, to save money and to live in a more desirable neighborhood also topped the list. provides the five most popular responses as to why their website visitors are moving in 2012:
1. Relocating for employment opportunities: 23 percent
2. Looking for a bigger apartment: 11.9 percent
3. Shopping for a less expensive apartment: 11.3 percent
4. Wanting to live in a more desirable neighborhood: 10.6 percent
5. Change in marital status: 8.8 percent

As part of their due diligence, this survey finds renters tapping multiple resources during their apartment search. While the majority of survey respondents rely on and online apartment classified listings websites, such as Craigslist to find a new place, there has also been a notable 9.2 percent uptick in the number of respondents who are using review websites this year over last. In addition to the dominant choice of, of which 100 percent of survey respondents were utilizing at the time of taking the survey, renters ranked their top apartment shopping tools as follows:
1. Online apartment classified listing websites (e.g. Craigslist and Oodle): 70.4 percent
2. Search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo!, Bing): 45.3 percent
3. Review websites (e.g., Yelp!): 32.6 percent
4. Word of mouth: 31.5 percent
5. Local newspapers: 26.7 percent

Apartment seekers currently in the market for an apartment are encouraged to read the following tips, from, to help them find the perfect place to live.
• Identify "Need to Have" Versus "Nice to Have" Amenities: Before beginning an apartment search, identify which features and amenities are must haves. Different apartment styles and locations appeal to a variety of renters, depending on the demands of their day-to-day routine. Amenities like newer kitchen appliances and marble countertops, laundry or workout facilities may result in a more expensive apartment. People who are new to a big city may be surprised to find parking hard to come by or an additional expense. The best way to go about finding a place that meets the needs of one's lifestyle is to create a list of necessities and conduct an online apartment search against that list.
• Budget Wisely: When looking for a place, experts suggest rent should not exceed 25-30 percent of one's annual wages. Take a look at income after taxes and subtract expenses. Be sure to include food, car payment, credit card, entertainment and phone bills as part of the expenses. Whatever is left is what apartment shoppers can afford for their new place. Keep in mind this budget will need to cover rent and other services like gas, cable, electricity and garbage pickup, if these are not already included in the rent. If it's not already included, ask the landlord or property manager to put what is covered and what is not into the rental agreement.
• Inspect an Apartment: Most shoppers wouldn't buy a car without taking it for a test drive. So, why would anyone rent an apartment without seeing it first? Especially when a lot of the information to help narrow down the search, including apartment photos and videos, can be found online. On, walk-through video tours guide viewers through the interiors of apartments to help them pinpoint the places that meet their needs before scheduling an appointment. Once interested renters have arrived at the apartment, they should ask the landlord or property manager to give a tour and double check the appropriate safety fixtures (e.g. smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors) are installed and working. Also, test faucets, toilets and other pipes under cabinets for leaks in plumbing. Run a hand along the outside of the window to check for drafts. If there are any items that need to be repaired or replaced, make sure these are addressed before signing the lease.



Word of the Day

February 21, 2012 4:28 pm

Appurtenance. Whatever is annexed to land or used with it that will pass to the buyer with conveyance of title, such as a garage or fence.


Question of the Day

February 21, 2012 4:28 pm

Q: What is a balloon mortgage?

A: It is a mortgage in which the entire unpaid principal becomes due and payable on a given date, five, 10, or any number of years in the future. The borrower must pay up, refinance, or lose the property.

Interest rates on balloon mortgages are lower than for fixed-rate mortgages. So their monthly mortgage payments will be lower than the monthly payments for conventional mortgages.

Balloon mortgages are a good way to keep monthly housing costs to a minimum if you plan to move or sell well within the period of the balloon.


Prepping for Solar Power

February 20, 2012 7:22 pm

Well, 2012 may be the year I take the plunge and add a solar water heating or electrical generating system to the old homestead. During a preliminary search for information, I ran across, a useful site.

While hosts of the website will be glad to send you specific information in exchange for your email address, they also provide some basic information for free on sizing up your home for solar power.

According to the site, there are five things you need to do in the process of preparing to 'go solar.' We'll begin covering them here, and continue in the next segment along with taking a look at how you might be able to sell surplus power back to the grid.

First, the folks at say you have to calculate the potential solar radiation power you need. For most parts of the United States, an average of 4-5 kilowatt hours per day can be achieved, though in some regions it is possible to achieve up to 8.

To find the output for your area, refer to a map on the website for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Resource Assessment Program.

Next, you need to determine your average energy use. Once you know how much energy you can expect to get from the sun, you can determine about how much energy you will need based on your current monthly energy consumption.

If you don’t have copies of your last 12 bills, you can view the state by state averages, as published by the Energy Information Administration. According to the chart, a consumer who lives in New Jersey, for instance, will use an average of about 730 kWh/month in electricity, while one in Alabama may use as much as 1,300 kWh of energy per month.

Now that you know how much solar radiation is available and how much of it can actually be utilized by a solar panel, you can calculate how many photovoltaic solar panels you will need in order to replace your current source of electricity.

Stay tuned for more on sizing up your home for solar in our next segment.