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 
Welcome Home from RE/MAX 440!

Mary's Blog

Question of the Day

January 16, 2012 6:06 pm

Q: There seem to be no shortage of contractors; how do you identify one who is less than reputable?

A: They often give themselves away. The telltale signs:
• Pressure is used to get you to sign a contract;
• Verifying the contractor’s name, address, phone number and credentials is impossible;
• Cash payments are only accepted, not checks made out to a company;
• Payment for the entire job is demanded up-front, whereas most remodelers typically require a down payment of 25-50% of the contract price for small jobs and 10-33% for large jobs.
• The contractor suggests that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows, which could make you the target of a home improvement loan scam – a sure way to lose your home;
• The contractor offers information that is out-of-date or no longer valid;
• No references are available;
• An inability by the contractor to communicate the project well;
• Exceptionally long guarantees are offered;
• The contractor fails to listens and talks over you; and
• The contractor fails to notify you of your right to cancel the contract within three days; this “right of recision” is required by law and allows you to change your mind without penalty if the contract was provided at a place other than the contractor’s place of business or an appropriate trade premise.

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Garage Door Upgrade Amps Home Renovation Value

January 12, 2012 5:58 pm

Homeowners seeking a renovation project that will add long-term value and attract buyers should consider a facelift for their garage, a national study on remodeling costs and value has found.

At a time when buyers are evaluating homes based on curb appeal and online photos, the 2011-2012 Cost vs. Value Report released last month by Remodeling magazine confirms that replacement of a basic garage door with a mid-range or upscale model is one of the smartest and best value buys prior to a home sale.

Statistics show that more than 90 percent of home buyers turn to the Internet first in their home searches, often basing their decisions to learn more about a property from the photos they see of a home's exterior. With large portions of a home's facade often comprised of a street-facing garage door, it's no surprise that garage door replacement is, for the second year in a row, rated among the best home renovation projects for returning value at resale.

At 71.9 percent on average, mid-range garage door replacement is a top-five improvement for return on investment (ROI), the Cost vs. Value Report found, ahead of both bathroom and major kitchen remodels. Meanwhile, an upscale garage door replacement delivers a 71.1 percent ROI, making it the second highest-rated upscale improvement.

"Many homes incorporate a design that places a garage front and center to a home's view from the curb," says Joe Dachowicz, vice president of marketing at Overhead Door Corporation. "Because of this, garage door replacement is, and always has been, a great investment because it's a relatively low-cost improvement that makes a dramatic impact on a home's curb appeal."

Along with enhanced curb appeal, garage door replacement can also deliver a boost to energy efficiency, Dachowicz says.

"This year's Cost vs. Value Report revealed that homeowners continue to look for projects that improve curb appeal and reduce maintenance and operational costs," Dachowicz says. "By upgrading an old garage door with an insulated one, homeowners can achieve both goals with one project."

The 2011-2012 Cost vs. Value survey determined that garage door replacement was a top-five value-returning project after evaluating a typical $1,500 cost to replace a basic garage door with a mid-range garage model. The survey determined the value of that replacement at home sale to be nearly $1,100. This equates to a 71.9 percent ROI and is the fourth-highest rated project a homeowner can undertake, according to the study. Meanwhile, the roughly $3,000 cost to replace a mid-range model with an upscale one had an estimated value at sale of about $2,130, equating to a 71.1 percent return.

Source: www.overheaddoor.com

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How to Legally Lay Off an Employee

January 12, 2012 5:58 pm

It's one of the toughest decisions for any employer, small or large: Should you lay off your employees, and how should you do it so you don't get sued?

The decision about layoffs is entirely up to you. But as for how to implement layoffs, here a few legal considerations.

You've been WARNed. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN Act, is a federal law that requires 60 days' written notice before a plant closing or a "mass layoff." The federal WARN Act applies to employers with more than 100 workers, but state versions of the WARN Act may apply to smaller employers, according to HRHero.com.

Don't discriminate. Federal and state laws place some employees in a "protected" class. For example, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits an employer from treating older workers differently than others. So make sure your planned layoff doesn't discriminate.

Don't retaliate. Layoffs can't be in retaliation for a worker's complaint. That could be grounds for a workplace retaliation lawsuit.

Employees on leave. For employees on family or medical leave at the time of an announced layoff, an employer must show their leave is unrelated to the layoff, and that the worker would've lost his or her job regardless.

Members of the military.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) requires employers to reinstate servicemembers to the jobs they would have held had they not been called to duty. An employer can't layoff a servicemember unless the employer can prove circumstances have drastically changed.

Continuing health insurance. Under federal law, most employers with group health plans must allow a laid-off employee to continue to pay for the same health coverage for a specified period of time.
Severance agreements. These offer an employee an incentive, such as additional compensation or benefits, in exchange for agreeing not to sue an employer. But remember, an employer can't force employees to sign a severance agreement. An employee must also get time to consider the agreement—either 21 or 45 days, depending on the worker's age, according to the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act.

Source: www.bills.com

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Word of the Day

January 12, 2012 5:58 pm

Tenancy by the entirety. A form of joint ownership reserved for married persons; right of survivorship exists and neither spouse has a disposable interest during the lifetime of the other.

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Question of the Day

January 12, 2012 5:58 pm

Q: Is there such a thing as “over improving?”

A: Yes. The last thing you want to do when undertaking a home improvement is go overboard. This means fixing up the home to the point where it becomes worth far more than nearby neighborhood properties.

Down the road, when you may want to sell, potential homebuyers will be reluctant to pay, say, $200,000 for your home when others are priced at $150,000. If they want to pay that kind of money, they will likely make a purchase in a neighborhood where most of the homes sell in that price range.

Carefully measure the cost of any improvements you want to make against the overall values in your neighborhood. Otherwise, you may not recover your costs or increase your property value significantly.

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Chinese Drywall; Remediation Edition

January 12, 2012 5:58 pm

Picking up from our previous segment, I tapped www.forresidentialpros.com for more details about 2011’s landmark global class action settlement, which will help thousands of American homeowners affected by problems with KPT Chinese drywall.

According to the report, under the settlement agreement, KPT will continue remediating more than 1,300 homes with KPT drywall, for class members electing that remediation option. All of the remediated homes will be inspected by environmental engineers, who will certify to homeowners that their homes are free of problem drywall odors and contamination.

Remediation is carried out without cost to the homeowner. Approximately 5,200 plaintiffs have specifically alleged that their homes contain KPT drywall; and of these, approximately 2,700 have submitted in some form evidence of the presence of KPT drywall.

The report also explained the three Remediation Fund options:

• Program Contractor Remediation Option. The Program Remediation Option provides the class member with the convenience of having Moss & Associates, who has been approved by the PSC and the Knauf Defendants, remediate the class member's property.
• Self-Remediation Option. The Self-Remediation Option provides the class member with the choice to select his or her own qualified contractor to remediate the property
• Cash-Out Option. The Cash-Out Option provides a cash payment with no obligation to remediate the property but the amount of cash will be less than the amount that would be expended under the two remediation options and the homeowner must take steps to assure, among other things, notice to subsequent purchasers of the presence of KPT drywall.
Forresidentialpros.com also reports that homeowners will receive a stipend to cover the costs of moving and storage during the remediation, and to pay for damaged personal appliances. And an "Other Loss Fund" will reportedly reimburse class members for provable economic loss, short sales, and foreclosures caused by KPT Drywall.

The fund also will provide a mechanism for resolving disputed personal injury claims.

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Start at the Store: 7 Ways to Prevent Food-borne Illness

January 12, 2012 5:58 pm

Safeguarding your home against food-borne illnesses begins not at home, but at the supermarket, grocery store, or any other place where you buy food that you plan to store and serve.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne ailments cause about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths nationwide each year.

You as a consumer can play a key role in preventing these illnesses. While shopping for food, you should:
1. Check for cleanliness
Buying from a retailer who follows proper food handling practices helps assure that the food is safe. Ask yourself: What is the general impression of this facility? Does it look and smell clean?

2. Keep certain foods separated
Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart. Place these foods in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods. It is also best to separate these foods from other foods at checkout and in your grocery bags.

3. Inspect cans and jars
Don't buy food in cans that are bulging or dented. Also, don't buy food in jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids.

Since foods sold in cans or jars are processed to be sterile, they can "keep" for a long time if the can or jar is intact. A bulging can or jar lid may mean the food was under-processed and is contaminated. A dent in a can, especially if the dent affects a seam, may cause an opening in the seam which may allow contamination, as would a crack in a jar. A loose lid on a jar means the vacuum has been lost and the product may be contaminated. Don't buy a food product whose seal seems tampered with or damaged.

4. Inspect frozen food packaging
Don't buy frozen food if the package is damaged. Packages should not be open, torn or crushed on the edges. Also, avoid packages that are above the frost line in the store's freezer. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. This could mean that the food in the package has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen. In such cases, choose another package.

5. Select frozen foods and perishables last
Meat, poultry, fish and eggs should be the last items placed in your shopping cart. Always put these products in separate plastic bags so that drippings don't contaminate other foods.

6. Choose fresh eggs carefully
Before putting eggs in your cart, open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and none is cracked. Buy only refrigerated eggs and follow the "Safe Handling Instructions" on the carton.

7. Be mindful of time and temperature
It's important to refrigerate perishable products as soon as possible after grocery shopping. Food safety experts stress the "2-hour rule"—because harmful bacteria can multiply in the "danger zone" (between 40° and 140° F), perishable foods should not be left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Modify that rule to 1 hour when temperatures are above 90° F, as they often are in cars that have been parked in the sun.

If it will take more than an hour to get your groceries home, use an ice chest to keep frozen and perishable foods cold. Also, when the weather is warm and you are using your car's air conditioner, keep your groceries in the passenger compartment, not the trunk.

Source: www.fda.gov

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Expecting? Household Hazards Pregnant Women Need to Avoid

January 12, 2012 5:58 pm

Many women try to lead healthier lives during their pregnancies. To promote the health of their baby, they may clean up their diets, take vitamins and eliminate alcohol and caffeine.

Unfortunately, all those efforts may be for naught if they are still being exposed to unseen chemicals in their daily lives. Dr. Doris Rapp, an experienced physician and expert on all the hidden household and environmental hazards, dishes on the details about the many insidious and dangerous threats to their unborn babies. These exposures can cause serious harm and damaging birth defects to babies in the womb, and they are right under our noses.

“One of the most dangerous groups of chemicals to pregnant women is known as PCBs,” says Rapp, author of 32 Tips That Could Save Your Life.

“PCB stands for polychlorinated biphenyls, and they are commonly used in industrial pesticides. While they may not be in your house, they may exist in your office, your water or your food, especially if you live near the Great Lakes or consume seafood caught there. These chemicals pass through the placenta into the unborn, and some exposures have been known to cause devastating birth defects. These chemicals have also been found in the breast milk of women.”

According to Rapp, some of the dangers of these pesticides include, but are not limited to:
• Lower birth weight
• Smaller head size and developmental delays
• Movement, mental, and behavioral problems
• Increased or decreased activity levels
• Slowed thought processing and “less bright” appearance
• Lower reaction times
• Compromised nervous systems
“Moreover, a group of pesticides known as organophosphates also poses a high risk for pregnant women,” Rapp adds.
“These include Bisphenol-A and phthalates,” she says. “They are derived from World War II nerve agents and are highly toxic. Even at low levels, organophosphates can be toxic to the developing brain, and studies show that they can affect brain and reproductive development in unborn animals. While most pesticides categorized as organophosphates have been banned for household use, they are still permitted for commercial use, including in fumigation for mosquitoes. Malathion, a common toxic organophosphate, is still allowed for use as an industrial and household insecticide. In the US, approximately 15 million pounds of Malathion are used each year by the government, as well as by businesses and homeowners.”
Her advice for women is to do all they can to avoid contact with these chemicals, starting before conception.

“Stay as far away as possible from pesticide-treated areas,” Rapp says. “Do not eat pesticide-laden food or any fish from the Great Lakes. Try to eat only organic foods. Further, if your job requires you to be in contact with any chemicals or pesticides, insist that other tasks be given to you for the duration of your pregnancy. Half the battle is knowing these dangers exist, but the other half is being informed and conscientious enough to be able to avoid contact with these dangerous and toxic agents.”

Dr. Rapp is board certified in pediatrics, pediatric allergy and environmental medicine.

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Retirement Wake-up Call: Survey Shows Majority of U.S. Residents Shortage of Savings Will Delay Their Retirement

January 12, 2012 5:58 pm

According to a recent BMO Harris survey, the majority of U.S. residents are not confident in their ability to save for their ideal retirement lifestyle (57 percent). Adequate retirement savings has become an issue of significant concern to members of every income bracket, and approximately half of U.S. residents (52 percent) say they have/will or anticipate maybe having to delay their retirement and/or work part-time during retirement due to a shortage of retirement savings.

"This is a critical wake-up call to everyone, no matter what your age," says Mike Miroballi, president and chief operating officer, BMO Harris Financial Advisors.

"Our best advice? Start now. Get smart about planning and saving for retirement, and get educated about the many strategies and tools available to help maximize your savings."

Miroballi provides the following tips to guide you as you review or initiate your retirement planning:
Meet with a professional: A financial advisor can provide the guidance you need to learn about the retirement planning process and assist you in creating a realistic retirement plan. You just might be surprised at some of the opportunities available to help build your nest egg.

Start Early: We can't say it enough. Start saving at an early age. Doing so gives you the advantage of compound interest, your money will be working for you every single day. Just ask your parents, they learned this lesson the hard way.

It's never too late: Don't be discouraged if you haven't been saving for retirement. Instead of giving up, like many people do, start now. Contact a financial planner who can help you develop a plan for the best retirement that you can have.

Take advantage of your company 401(k): There are many advantages to 401(k) plans. Don't miss out on any of them. Although rare these days, some companies still offer to match your contributions (guidelines will vary by company). If there is no match, you still benefit because whatever you put into your 401(k) plan is tax-deferred. Don't forget that no matter how long or short your career at the company, you can take your 401(k) contributions with you or roll it over into other retirement vehicles.

Consider a Roth IRA: A Roth IRA is a special type of retirement plan under U.S. law that is generally not taxed, provided certain conditions are met. This plan is different from other retirement plans because the tax break is granted on money withdrawn from the plan during retirement, rather than for money placed into the plan.

Commit to saving, even if you start small: Ben Franklin said it best, "A penny saved, is a penny earned."
Parents, educate your children: So many of us are learning the retirement lesson, save early and save often, the hard way. Please be sure to share this knowledge with your children, and guide them to make saving an important part of their financial lives.

Source: BMO Harris Financial Advisors

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Word of the Day

January 12, 2012 5:58 pm

Tenants in common. Style of ownership in which two or more persons purchase a property jointly, but with no right of survivorship and separate undivided interests. They are free to will their share to anyone they choose, a principal difference between this form of ownership and joint tenancy.

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