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

9 out of 10 Americans Still Believe in “American Dream

September 30, 2011 5:03 pm

Despite the ups and downs across America’s Real Estate landscape, I was buoyed by a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that affirmed home ownership is still the American dream. In fact, nearly nine in 10 Americans say an important part of their American Dream is owning their own home.

This point was brought to my attention by Scott Cooney with ERA Goodfellow Homes, a leading real estate brokerage serving western Connecticut. He recently blogged that he has never witnessed real estate market conditions quite like what the U.S. and the region is experiencing today.

So is that good or bad news for consumers who are currently in the market for a new home? Cooney seems optimistic in offering these insights:

1. Homes are More Affordable - Current housing prices are down 27% on average across the nation from peak values five years ago according to the Freddie Mac House Price Index (June 2006 to March 2011), and the national housing affordability index continues to hover at record levels.

2. Rates are Low - With interest rates hovering around 4%, 30-year fixed mortgage interest rates remain near historical lows, based on an average 30-year fixed mortgage rate with an average 0.7 point as shown in the Primary Mortgage Market Survey data according to Freddie Mac as of July 7, 2011.

3. Timing is Everything - While conforming loan limits were set to be reduced on Oct. 1, (2011) many sources said the effects would be minimal and would only affect a narrow percentage of the housing market.

4. Financing is Available - If you have stable employment of at least two years; sufficient income to cover the monthly mortgage payment and living expenses; adequate savings to make at least a 3.5% down payment; and, in general, a credit score of at least 620, Cooney says you are well on your way to the American dream.

Just remember, according to Cooney, the FHA requires a minimum 3.5% down payment; while conventional mortgages will require a down payment of 5% or more. FICO score minimums may be higher or lower depending on loan type, income history, property type and other factors.

So take stock in Cooney’s advice, and don’t let those sensational headlines about the current real estate market dissuade you from pursuing your American dream of home ownership.

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Homeowners Should Act Now, Debt Relief Act of 2007 Expires 2012

September 30, 2011 5:03 pm

According to Expert Home Solutions, the difference in the loan modification payment is often not different enough from the original. Sometimes the modification is canceled because there is no grace period and the homeowner misses his due date. 

According to an article on CNN only 1% of homeowners in negative equity have received modifications. There have been 1.5 million HAMP trial modifications since the program began in March, 2009. 50% of the trial modifications have been canceled due to borrowers defaulting or banks rejecting homeowners after the trial period. Only 152,289 of the trial modifications converted to permanent status were active in 2010. 15 million homeowners are in default and only 1% have been able to get a modification that is still in force.
According to walletpop.com, only 4% of loan modifications get a principal reduction. With only 1% of the 15 million homeowners in default getting a loan modification that means that about 7,000 homeowners received a principal reduction by April 2010. 

While this trend continues today, some homeowners want retirement with a reverse mortgage or want to leave a legacy to their family. In a modification with no principal reduction they will not be able to do either. Equity normally increases about 3% per year. If a home loan is $500,000 and now the home is worth $300,000, it will take 18 years to reach $500,000. This homeowner breaks even in 2029. If the owner short sales now, he can buy in two years and start building equity in 2013.

For more information, visit http://www.experthomesolutionsincusa.com.

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Medicare 2012: What You Need to Know

September 30, 2011 5:03 pm

The Medicare program can be confusing because of its many different parts, supplemental coverage options and specific Medicare enrollment periods for different products. All of these nuances can make Medicare hard to understand for new enrollees as well as for those who have been on the program for a number of years. 

If you're new to the program or even if you're a seasoned Medicare veteran, here are a few things you should know about the program heading into 2012. 

Be aware of deductibles, co-insurance, out-of-pocket limits and prescription drug costs
If you're new to Medicare it's important to know that both parts of Original Medicare (A and B) have deductibles. And, the Part A deductibles are not tied to a calendar year like they are with traditional health insurance. Instead, they're tied to a 90-day benefit period, with some exceptions. 

The Medicare Part B benefit also includes coinsurance after you meet your deductible. With coinsurance, Medicare pays a percentage of each bill (typically between 20 and 45 percent, depending on the service) and you pay the rest after applicable premiums and deductibles. 

Original Medicare also has no limits on the amount you could pay out of your own pocket for covered medical services each year. And, original Medicare does not cover the cost of most prescription drugs.
People concerned about some of the gaps in original Medicare have the option to enroll in insurance products regulated by the government but provided by private companies. These are products designed specifically to fill some of the different gaps in Medicare. They include:
• Medicare Part D stand-alone prescription drug plans, which cover the cost of most prescription drugs. New Benefit: In 2012 part D recipients get a 14 percent discount on the cost of generic drugs when they reach Medicare's coverage gap, or "donut hole," on top of the 50 percent discount they got last year on the cost of brand name drugs when they reach the donut hole.
• Medicare Supplement plans, which cover portions of the deductibles, coinsurance and out-of-pocket costs not covered by original Medicare.
• Medicare Advantage plans, which bundle together the Part D drug benefit with some additional coverage for deductibles, coinsurance and out-of-pocket costs. New Benefit: Starting in 2011, health care reform requires all Medicare Advantage plans to have a maximum limit of $6,700 on how much a customer can pay out of their own pocket for medical services, excluding the cost of prescription drugs. 

Each type of supplemental coverage has different guidelines for when you can enroll, change and cancel your coverage. 

Most beneficiaries can change a Medicare Advantage plan or stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plan once per year during Medicare's annual enrollment period (AEP). The dates for AEP changed this year, and run from October 15 to December 7 in 2011. 

Medicare Supplement plans have an initial enrollment period, which occurs in the first 6 months after you enroll in Medicare Part B and are 65 or older. During that time, you can enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan and not be declined. But, if you try to enroll after the initial enrollment period, your application could be declined based on a review of your medical history. 

But, if you want to switch from a Supplement plan to an Advantage plan, the AEP is a good time to make that switch. 

New to Medicare?
Many people who are new to Medicare may have to deal with the complexity of the program. Here are some basics:
• Medicare is comprised of four major programs: Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D. Medicare Part A and Part B are often referred to as "Original Medicare." There are also Medicare Supplement plans, which are designed as an alternative to Part C to fill gaps in Parts A and B.
• Generally speaking, Part A covers in-patient hospitalization while Part B covers outpatient services and other medical care.
• Part C denotes the "Medicare Advantage" program where private insurance companies deliver Medicare Part A, Part B and -- in most cases—Part D benefits to plan enrollees.
• Part D is the Medicare prescription drug benefit that provides insurance coverage for medications.
• Your circumstances determine when you can enroll in or change Part D and C plans.

This and other food and lifestyle content can be found at www.editors.familyfeatures.com.

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Fun Foods That Fuel the Family

September 30, 2011 5:03 pm

For a lot of busy moms, it seems that kids' activities dominate the family calendar. Between school, soccer practice, ballet rehearsal and everything in between, sometimes you need to have a plan of attack for keeping the family satisfied. 

Eating right goes a long way to giving everyone the energy they need to fuel all those activities, but it can be tricky coming up with new ideas for meals and snacks the kids will actually eat. 

Blogger Meagan Francis, from The Happiest Mom, shares a few of her ideas for satisfying hungry kids and keeping them going throughout the busy day. 

Quick Breakfast Bites
• Wrap up the first meal of the day in a tortilla with scrambled egg burritos. If you're in a hurry, they can be a great on-the-go breakfast.
• Make a fruit smoothie or a toasted whole grain English muffin with peanut butter and no sugar added jelly.
• Skip the sugar-bomb-in-a-bowl cereal and go for whole grain cereal with strawberry or banana slices. 

Stock Up On Easy-to-Cart Snacks
• Pretzels dipped in peanut butter (or your favorite nut butter) is a creamy, crunchy snack that gives kids a little protein to fuel their afternoon activities.
• Let the kids help make a custom blend of homemade trail mix using their favorite ingredients. Try walnuts, almonds, yogurt covered raisins, sunflower seeds, and mini chocolate chips.
• A delicious, low fat—and fun to eat—portable snack, string cheese pleases just about every kid. 

Pack Some Lunchbox Fun
Stuff it - Fill pita pockets with their favorite chicken salad, low-sodium deli meat, or peanut butter and a banana.
Dip it - Give them finger foods to dip, like apples and peanut butter; baby carrots and ranch or yogurt dip.
Build it - Let them build their lunch by packing the ingredients in separate baggies or containers. Try a stacker with crackers, cheese and deli slices.

This and other food and lifestyle content can be found at www.editors.familyfeatures.com.

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Word of the Day

September 30, 2011 5:03 pm

Judgment. Court decree stating that one person is indebted to another. Also specifies the amount of the debt.

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Question of the Day

September 30, 2011 5:03 pm

Q: What if I am turned down for a loan?

A: Unless your credit is absolutely abysmal – with all kinds of judgments, liens, excessive delinquencies or non-payments, foreclosures and bankruptcies that show no attempt on your part to make progress – you can generally get a loan.

More and more borrowers are finding ways to become homeowners despite past credit problems, a lack of a credit history, or debt-to-income ratios that exceed traditional limits. This is because a greater number of lenders are willing to take a chance with borrowers today that they once turned down for home loans.

If you are denied a mortgage, ask the lender for a full explanation. If you feel you are creditworthy, then appeal the decision in writing.


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Surviving Post Storm Property Damage

September 30, 2011 5:03 pm

While I suffered no major property damage in the recent northeastern tropical storms, the experience of being in Vermont’s hardest hit community where storm Irene wreaked some of the state’s worst damage left an indelible memory of what intense and unanticipated flooding can do.

In the wake of this summer’s storms, property damage could keep showing up through the fall and into winter. With that in mind, my friends at the Better Business Bureau are warning consumers to be careful when hiring contractors to repair property damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene.

In the aftermath of natural disasters, unscrupulous, unregistered and uninsured contractors offer lowball estimates for repairs that affect the value of a property. If storm-related problems are not fixed properly, they can create long term problems that put homes at risk of further structural damage, mold and problems with electrical, heating and cooling systems.

The Better Business Bureau has the following tips for selecting home repair or improvement contractors:

• Avoid making quick decisions - Most property owners are inclined to get repair work done as quickly as possible, however, it is vital that they obtain bids from several contractors. Check with your insurance company to verify coverage and procedures for filing claims.

• Don’t hire on the basis of the lowest estimate – Unscrupulous contractors may offer very attractive estimates, but perform the work with substandard craftsmanship and materials, and in some cases, take a deposit and simply disappear. If one bid is substantially lower than others, ask why, and compare the details in the various estimates.

• Verify contractors’ history – Check other consumers’ experiences with contractors by looking up their BBB Business Reviews at www.bbb.org. Contractors’ registration may be verified through local, county or state registries.

• Get it all in writing – Once you have selected a company or individual to fix storm damage, make sure all of the details are in a contract, including any verbal promises. A contract should contain details about required materials, labor and financing, and a timeframe for the beginning and completion of work. A typical payment schedule would involve paying one third of the total cost before work begins to help pay for materials, one third when work begins and one third upon completion.

• And ask contractors whether their workers are employees or third parties, and request proof of insurance in case they are injured while working on your property. And in the event of a dispute, complaints can be directed to your state office of consumer affairs or protection, and you can also submit to your state BBB office.

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People Skills Pay the Bills

September 30, 2011 5:03 pm

To succeed in today's workplace, it's not enough to be smart, technically savvy, and experienced. You also need to develop people skills to get along well with people and bring out their best.

Five people skills help ensure success on the job:

Connecting

Connecting is the ability to establish an appropriate relationship with others, tune into their feelings and moods, understand their values, perspectives, and opinions, and to show an interest in their cares and concerns. Here are some tips for connecting with others:

• Establish rapport with people.
• Pay attention to people's facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice.
• See things from the other person's point of view.
• Adjust your communication style to match theirs.
• Avoid criticizing, making negative judgments, or saying that the other person is wrong.

Listening

Listening is the ability to encourage other people's open and honest communication, to understand what they mean (not just what they say), and to make them feel understood. Follow these tips for more effective listening:

• Encourage people to talk.
• Show your willingness to listen. Minimize distractions. Attend to the other person with your whole body (your body language, eyes, facial expressions). Nod your head and give verbal cues to communicate that you are paying attention.
• Ask open-ended questions. Closed questions (like, "Do you agree with my proposal?") limit people's ability to communicate. Open-ended questions (like, What's your impression of my proposal?") invite reflection and sharing.
• Listen to what people are trying to communicate, not just to what they are saying. Listen to their emotions. Listen, also, to what they want.
• Check to make sure you understand. Use your own words to reflect what you have heard and noticed.

Communicating

Communicating is the ability to communicate who you are, what you mean, and what you want in a way that wins people's understanding and cooperation. Here are some ideas for better communicating skills:

• Speak with sincerity and conviction.
• Be sensitive to other people's communication style.
• Know what you want to accomplish. Do you want people to understand your position? Lend their support? Approve your request?
• Listen at least as much as you talk.
• Attune what you say with how you say it. Keep your message congruent with your tone of voice, facial expression, and body language.

Speaking

Speaking is the ability to present yourself and your message to an audience of any size in a way that gains people's attention, interest, and cooperation. Learn to speak more effectively with these helpful suggestions:
• Project confidence.
• Connect with your audience. Establish eye contact. Use words and concepts they'll understand. Speak to their interests and concerns.
• Know what you want to accomplish. Do you want people to understand your position? To lend their support? To approve your request?
• Keep it short and simple. Most presentations can accomplish only one objective, develop only three main points, and hold people's attention only so long.
• Keep yourself front and center. Use PowerPoint™, slides, or overheads to clarify or illustrate your points, not to hide behind.
• Encourage questions. Think of any presentation — even a technical one — as a dialogue with your audience.

Influencing

Is the ability to change people's attitudes and behaviors, to gain their support for your proposals, and to get them to do what you want them to do without manipulation or coercion. Good influencers:

• Make people feel understood.
• Find common ground. Begin with the concerns, values, and goals you share.
• Listen. This is the best way to make people feel understood and to find common ground. It also expresses respect.
• Don't argue. Even if you "win" the argument, you rarely win the other person's cooperation.
• Care about the person you want to influence. Have their best interests at heart. Respect them and they'll respect you.
• Help people believe change is possible. Give people hope, reason to believe that they can change the situation for the better.
• Time your request well. People are never at their best when they're stressed, or hungry, or tired, or angry.

Chris Witt, a coach based in San Diego, works with executives and with technical experts who want to improve their presentation and communication skills.

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How to Survive Home Remodeling Projects

September 30, 2011 5:03 pm

The people at San Jose kitchen and bath remodeling company, Medina Home Repair, know that home renovations can be stressful, so they would like provide some simple recommendations to those who are thinking of revamping their houses but do not know where to start. Following these recommendations will not only save on time and money, but will also restore peace of mind. 

The first thing Medina recommends is to plan ahead for trouble that might occur during the renovating process. 

“A meeting with the contractor about problems the renovations may cause your neighbors before any construction begins is always a good first step,” says Jose Medina of Medina Home Repair.
Next, set a reasonable timeline for the completion of construction. Contractors won’t be able to provide an exact date, but an experienced one, such as Medina Home Repair, is capable of providing customers with a fairly reasonable timeline. Third, never leave critical decisions to the last minute. This will cost more money as well as a delay in construction. 

Another important factor in preparing for renovations is to protect the belongings in the home. With so many people moving in and out of the house with heavy equipment and cumbersome materials, it is almost certain that any belongings not packed safely out of the way will be damaged. To help the renovations run smoothly, stay out of the contractor’s way once the plans have been discussed. 

Another tip is to keep the end goal in mind. Stress and panic is most likely to attack when the house is gutted and materials are cluttering up the room. To avoid this anxiety, the professionals at Medina Home Repair suggest that homeowners try to envision what the home will look like at the end of construction. Find ways of thinking about the future, such as focusing on shopping for furnishings for the room, if the budget allows. 

Lastly, keep an open line of communication with the contractor. To fulfill the dream home renovation, the contractor needs to know what are the homeowner’s ideas and expectations. 

For more information, visit www.sanjosecakitchenremodeling.com.

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Allergy Relief for Your Child

September 30, 2011 5:03 pm

Children are magnets for colds. But when the “cold” won’t go away for weeks, the culprit may be allergies.
Long-lasting sneezing, with a stuffy or runny nose, may signal the presence of allergic rhinitis—the collection of symptoms that affect the nose when you have an allergic reaction to something you breathe in that lands on the lining inside the nose. 

Allergies may be seasonal or they can strike year-round (perennial). In most parts of the United States, plant pollens are often the cause of seasonal allergic rhinitis—more commonly called hay fever. Indoor substances, such as mold, dust mites, and pet dander, may cause the perennial kind. 

Up to 40 percent of children suffer from allergic rhinitis, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). And children are more likely to develop allergies if one or both parents have allergies. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines that offer allergy relief as well as allergen extracts used to diagnose and treat allergies. 

Immune System Reaction
An allergy is a reaction of the immune system to a specific substance, or allergen. The immune system responds to the invading allergen by releasing histamine and other chemicals that typically trigger symptoms in the nose, lungs, throat, sinuses, ears, eyes, skin, or stomach lining, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 

In some children, allergies can also trigger symptoms of asthma—a disease that causes wheezing or difficulty breathing. 

If a child has allergies and asthma, “not controlling the allergies can make asthma worse,” says Anthony Durmowicz, M.D., a pediatric pulmonary doctor in FDA’s Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Rheumatology Products. 

Avoiding the Culprit
If your child has seasonal allergies, you may want to pay attention to pollen counts and try to keep your child inside when the levels are high. 

• In the late summer and early fall, during ragweed pollen season, pollen levels are highest in the morning.
• In the spring and summer, during the grass pollen season, pollen levels are highest in the evening.
• Some molds, another allergy trigger, may also be seasonal. For example, leaf mold is more common in the fall.
• Sunny, windy days can be especially troublesome for pollen allergy sufferers.
It may also help to keep windows closed in your house and car and run the air conditioner when pollen counts are high. 

Allergy Medicines
For most children, symptoms may be controlled by avoiding the allergen, if known, and using OTC medicines. However, if a child’s symptoms are persistent and not relieved by OTC medicines, it is wise to see a health care professional to assess your child’s symptoms and see if other treatments, including prescription medicines, may be appropriate. 

While some allergy medicines are approved for use in children as young as six months, Dianne Murphy, M.D., director of FDA’s Office of Pediatric Therapeutics, cautions, “Always read the label to make sure the product is appropriate for your child’s age. Just because a product’s box says that it is intended for children does not mean it is intended for children of all ages.” 

“Children are more sensitive than adults to many drugs,” adds Murphy. “For example, some antihistamines can have adverse effects at lower doses on young patients, causing excitability or excessive drowsiness.” 

Allergy Shots
Children who don't respond to either OTC or prescription medications, or who suffer from frequent complications of allergic rhinitis, may be candidates for allergen immunotherapy—commonly known as allergy shots. According to NIAID, about 80 percent of people with allergic rhinitis will see their symptoms and need for medicine drop significantly within a year of starting allergy shots. 

After allergy testing, typically by skin testing to detect what allergens your child may react to, a health care professional injects the child with “extracts”—small amounts of the allergens that trigger a reaction. The doses are gradually increased so that the body builds up immunity to these allergens. 

Allergen extracts are manufactured from natural substances, such as pollens, insect venoms, animal hair, and foods. More than 1,200 extracts are licensed by FDA. 

Some doctors are buying extracts licensed for injection and instructing the parents to administer the extracts using a dropper under the child’s tongue, says Jay E. Slater, M.D., director of FDA’s Division of Bacterial, Parasitic and Allergenic Products. “While FDA considers this the practice of medicine (and the agency does not regulate the practice of medicine), parents and patients should be aware that there are no allergenic extracts currently licensed by FDA for oral use.” 

“Allergy shots are never appropriate for food allergies,” adds Slater, who is also a pediatrician and allergist. But it’s common to use extracts to test for food allergies so the child can avoid those foods. 

Transformation in Treatment
“In the last 20 years, there has been a remarkable transformation in allergy treatments,” says Slater. “Kids used to be miserable for months out of the year, and drugs made them incredibly sleepy. But today’s products are outstanding in terms of safety and efficacy.” 

Forgoing treatment can make for an irritable, sleepless, and unhappy child, adds Slater, recalling a mother saying, after her child’s successful treatment, “I didn’t realize I had a nice kid!” 

For more information, visit www.fda.gov.

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