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

Proactive Car Care Pays Off Down the Road

August 18, 2011 8:03 pm

Gas prices and tough economic conditions are affecting Americans’ driving and spending habits. According to a recent survey sponsored by AutoZone, more than half of U.S. drivers are making sacrifices in order to accommodate for higher gas prices. 

Shorter trips and cutting back on dining out are just a couple of ways motorists say they are compensating for paying higher gas prices. Meanwhile, nearly half of survey respondents say that the economy has had an impact on their decision to purchase a new vehicle. This means more older vehicles are on the road and more vehicles in need of repair. According to the National Car Council, 80 percent of vehicles on the road are in need of service or parts.

While Americans are gripping their wallets, AutoZone reminds drivers of the importance of routine and proactive maintenance. A few dollars spent on car care can go a long way in increasing fuel economy and extending the life of the vehicle.

“Spending a few minutes and a few dollars performing routine maintenance checks can ease the pain at the pump and help extend vehicle life,” says Steve Stoll, director of merchandising at AutoZone. “A small investment in car care today could pay off down the road.”

Jody Devere, CEO of Ask Patty, an automotive advice website, recommends checking and maintaining critical vehicle components as the hot summer comes to an end. 

“Many vehicle components can be weakened during continuous days of hot weather,” Devere said. “Checking and replacing key vehicle components in early fall can uncover any damage that occurred during the hot, summer months.”

AutoZone offers the following tips to ensure vehicles are running safely and efficiently:

Check Fluids.
Checking and maintaining the levels on key fluids can prevent engines from overheating. These fluids include engine oil, transmission fluids and antifreeze/coolant. Also, changing to a quality, synthetic engine oil such as Mobil 1 Advanced Fuel Economy can improve fuel efficiency and engine performance.
Test Battery to Prevent a Breakdown.
Many batteries that fail during fall and early winter had become weakened by the scorching summer heat. Although batteries last an average of three to five years, the National Car Care Council recommends checking the battery at least annually, preferably during the early fall and spring, to avoid a breakdown during the hottest months of the year.

Replace and Maintain Vital Components.
Spark Plugs
Spark plugs can affect fuel efficiency, emissions and economy. As spark plugs wear, they do not burn fuel as cleanly, which is why it is important to change spark plugs at the proper interval. Motorists should purchase the correct type of spark plugs and replace them at the proper interval as recommended by the manufacturer. If the owner’s manual has been lost, many websites, such as the National Car Care Council’s website, www.carcare.org, offer a recommended maintenance schedule for vehicles.

Oxygen Sensors
Replacing oxygen sensors can improve gas mileage. Check and replace one- and two-wire sensors every 30,000-50,000 miles and every 60,000-100,000 miles for “heated” type oxygen sensors.

Air Filters
Replacing a clogged air filter can lead to increased performance and acceleration. Air filters should be checked at every oil change, and replaced every 12,000 miles.

For more information visit www.autozone.com.

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Winter Travel on a Budget? It’s Not too Early to Start Planning—and Saving.

August 18, 2011 8:03 pm

Winter Travel on a Budget? It’s Not too Early to Start Planning—and Saving. 

The sun is out, and beaches are still open, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to begin planning your winter vacation. Apple Vacations consumer research indicates that due to pent up demand from years of cutting back, Americans are booking their winter vacations earlier than last year. Waiting for a last-minute deal could mean winter travelers may miss out on their first hotel choice, destination or date. Apple Vacations is offering these tips to help consumers save money on winter travel: 

• Book an air and hotel package. Typically, companies that can package air and hotel together have more negotiating power, ensuring the lowest price possible.
• Investigate travel protection.
• When researching, be sure to compare apples to apples. For example, is the vacation from Company A the same as Company B? Does it include hotel transfers? Taxes? Meals?
• Whenever possible, book a nonstop flight. While the financial savings may be negligible, the costs to the environment are much less. Nearly half of the carbon emissions released by airplanes happen during takeoff and landing, so fewer stops mean a “greener” flight. It also means a quicker start to that winter vacation.
• Go all-inclusive. Today’s all-inclusives offer gourmet restaurants, premium brand drinks, fitness classes from certified professionals, all-day activities and nightly entertainment—a far cry from the boring buffet lines of all-inclusives of the past. Secrets Resorts in Riviera Maya, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, for example, have a la carte French, Italian, seafood and tepanyaki restaurants included in its package price.
• Look for packages that include extra values. For winter travel, hotels are offering free golf, free spa treatments, kids stay free and more. Travelers can save money on their vacation activities before they even arrive.

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Word of the Day

August 18, 2011 8:03 pm

Eminent domain. The right or power of government to acquire private property for public use without the consent of the owner, provided fair compensation is provided.

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Question of the Day

August 18, 2011 8:03 pm

Q: How can I finance work needed on a fixer-upper?

A: According to the Millennial Housing Commission created by Congress, few lenders are willing to administer home improvement loans. Most prefer to make home equity loans or unsecured consumer loans because they are easier to manage. Home improvement loans usually require inspections and irregular draws on the loan amount as work is completed, which requires regional or national lenders to find local partners to provide oversight. 

Financing repairs and improvements with home equity is okay for most homeowners, but it is difficult for many first-time buyers. They have lower-incomes, smaller savings, and have made lower down payments on their homes than first-time buyers a decade ago. So they have little equity to borrow against. Unfortunately, it is often lower cost older homes purchased by first-time buyers that need the most work. 

Unless you have a cash reserve, you will have to shop around for the best borrowing terms. In addition to the options listed above, you can ask relatives for a loan. Borrow against your whole life insurance policy. 

Refinance your existing mortgage. Get a second mortgage. Contact the government about home improvement programs. And – only as a last resort – borrow from a finance agency, which generally tend to charge high rates.

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Improving the Value of Your Home

August 18, 2011 5:03 pm

Every home is, first and foremost, a place to live and enjoy—a respite from the outside world and a place to build cherished family memories. But a home is also an investment —perhaps the most important investment you will ever make, and there are many small steps you can take over the years to increase its value, comfort, and marketability should the time come to sell it and move.

California REALTOR® Ellen Parker suggests seven cost-effective ways to treat your home like the investment it is meant to be:

• Curb appeal – First impressions are important, and regular maintenance shows. A well-kept lawn, tidy landscaping, a neatly painted exterior and a nice front door show pride of ownership and pride in the neighborhood.
• Fresh paint – One of the most cost-effective boosts to any home is a coat of fresh interior paint. Choose colors that appeal to you, but if selling your home is on your agenda, stick to neutral shades.
• Update kitchen – Dated counters, cabinets and floors can be a real turn-off to buyers. Investing in granite, tile and/or remodeled cabinetry will not only increase your own enjoyment, but can make a major difference in resale value.
Update windows – Double paned windows that shut out noise and help regulate indoor temperature are an attractive and worthwhile investment that will add value to your home.
• Update baths – Attractive bathrooms are always noticed. Tubs and showers are easily replaced or resurfaced, and newer, low-flush toilets can cost as little as $100.
Update floors and ceilings – Popcorn ceilings are a thing of the past. Scrape them away before painting. Carpeting, if used, should never look dingy or worn. Is there a real wood floor under the carpet? Think about ripping out that old carpeting and refurbishing the wood for a clean and updated look.
• Energy savings – Although not always noticeable, energy efficient additions like solar panels, insulated windows and water filtration systems will trim your own utility bills and add value when you sell.

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Many Still Lack Flood Coverage as Hurricane Season Nears Its Peak

August 18, 2011 5:03 pm

 Less than a fifth of U.S. homeowners have a flood insurance policy that protects their property and personal belongings, even though more than four out of every five natural disasters nationwide involve flooding, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). 

Coverage for flood damage resulting from surface water, including storm surge caused by hurricanes, is excluded under standard homeowner and renter insurance policies; however flood coverage is available both from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and from a few private insurance companies. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently upgraded its Atlantic hurricane season forecast. NOAA said it envisioned 14-19 named storms between August 4, 2011, and November 30, 2011, up from the 12-18 named storms the federal agency projected in May 2011. NOAA also said the number of 2011 Atlantic hurricanes would likely be closer to 7-10 in number, rather than the 6-10 hurricanes the agency predicted would develop in May 2011. 

During the first six months of 2011 alone, the federal government declared 28 major flood disasters. This put the U.S. well ahead of the pace set in 2010, when 50 federally declared major flood disasters occurred during the entire year. 

"People tend to underestimate the risk of flooding," says Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for III. "But, in fact, 90 percent of all natural disasters in this country involve flooding. It is important to note that there is a 30-day waiting period for flood insurance to go into effect, so don't delay purchasing this important financial protection." 

While the risk of flood damage is real, a 2011 poll by III found that only 14 percent of American homeowners had a flood insurance policy. The percentage of homeowners with flood insurance was highest in the South, at 19 percent. Thirteen percent of Midwestern homeowners had a flood insurance policy in 2011, along with 12 percent of homeowners in the West and 5 percent in the Northeast. 

"A low risk from flooding does not mean there is no risk," points out Salvatore. "Even those who do not live in an area at high risk for flooding should talk to their agent or company representative about getting flood insurance. In fact," Salvatore adds, "Since the inception of the NFIP, 25 to 30 percent of the NFIP's paid losses were for damage in areas not officially designated as special flood hazard area at the time of the loss." 

Consumers can find out their risk of flood and the cost of a policy by going to the NFIP's website, www.FloodSmart.gov. 

The NFIP provides coverage for up to $250,000 for the structure of your home and $100,000 for your personal possessions. The NFIP policy provides replacement cost coverage for the structure of your home, but only actual cash value coverage for your possessions. Replacement cost coverage pays to rebuild your home as it was before the damage. Actual cash value is replacement cost coverage minus depreciation so that the older your possessions are, the less you will get if they are damaged. The NFIP policy may also have limits on coverage for furniture and other belongings stored in a basement. Flood insurance is also readily available for renters. 

If you need additional insurance protection over and above the amount of coverage in a basic flood insurance policy, excess flood insurance is available from some private insurers; it also provides coverage if you live in a community that does not participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. An excess flood insurance policy covers damage above the limits of the federal program on the same basis as the federal program—replacement cost for the structure and actual cash value for the contents. Some insurers have also introduced special insurance policies for high-value properties. These policies may provide enhancements to the traditional flood insurance policy. 

There is a 30-day waiting period after applying for flood coverage and paying the premium before the policy goes into effect. The only exceptions to this rule are:
• If a homeowner purchases flood insurance in connection with making, increasing, extending or renewing a loan. In those cases, there is no waiting period.
• If a lender determines that a loan on a property that does not have flood insurance should be protected by flood insurance, there is no waiting period as long as the premium is presented at the completion of a loan application.
• If a homeowner purchases flood insurance during the 13-month waiting period following the effective date of a revised community flood map issued by FEMA, the agency with oversight over NFIP. There is a one-day waiting period for policyholders meeting that criterion.

In addition to hurricane related flooding, flood insurance covers the direct physical losses resulting from heavy or prolonged rain, melting snow, blocked storm drainage systems and levee dam failure.
Despite the very real risk of flooding, the average flood insurance policy in 2010 was only $594 per year for $220,577 worth of coverage, according to III's Salvatore. And, the average amount of a flood insurance claim was $26,067 in 2010. 

"Flood insurance is also easy to buy. It can be purchased from the same agent or company representative who sold you your home or renters insurance policy," says Salvatore. "So to file a flood insurance claim, you can simply get in touch with your insurance company." 

To prepare for a disaster, the I.I.I. suggests the following steps:
1. Contact your insurance agent to make sure that you have both the right amount and type of insurance protection, including flood insurance.
2. Make sure you have an up-to-date home inventory. This will help you purchase the right amount of insurance and will make the claims process faster and easier. III has free Web-based home inventory software at KnowYourStuff.org.
3. Take reasonable steps to make your home disaster-resistant. III has a video outlining five key steps for Making Your Home More Hurricane Resistant. For detailed information on how to disaster-proof your home or business, go to www.disastersafety.org.
4. Have a disaster plan that includes your pets. You should know where you will go if you have to evacuate and know what you need to take with you.

For more information, visit www.III.org.

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Homeowners, Be Wary of Rogue Roofers

August 17, 2011 8:03 pm

After one of the worst winters in recent memory, a lot of folks are finding out this summer that they have some substantial roof damage as a result. For those who do, the Better Business Bureau warns that among the summer’s usual list of unscrupulous peddlers, are contractors who try to pressure homeowners into repairing or replacing their roof.

Complaints to BBB about roofers concern high-pressure sales tactics, confusion over contract terms, poor workmanship, incomplete work, disputes over warranties and overcharging on the agreed upon price. To avoid these scenarios and find a roofer you can count on, BBB recommends that homeowners:

• Recognize the red flags - Beware of any contractor that uses high pressure sales tactics or requires full payment upfront. Also, avoid contractors that require you to get the necessary permits. This is usually an indication the contractor wants to avoid answering questions at city hall.
• Get at least three bids - Beware of lowball estimates that may potentially balloon over time or foreshadow shoddy work to come. If estimates for the same work vary widely, find out why. Sometimes unscrupulous operators may use sub-standard materials or take longer to finish the job.
• Check the qualifications - Verify the business meets all requirements including required licensing and insurance, that they are bonded and registered in many states. Ask a prospective roofer for references from recent jobs.
• Make sure everything is in writing - The full scope of the work should be explained in the contract. All verbal agreements need to be included in the written agreement. Pay close attention to the payment terms, estimated price of materials and labor, and any warranties or guarantees, a payment schedule and start and completion dates. Confirm whether the roofer will be subcontracting the job or relying on established, qualified employees.
• Know what to pay and when – Negotiate the lowest possible deposit, but keep in mind it allows the contractor to purchase materials for the project. Never pay the full amount upfront or with cash. Make checks payable to a company—rather than an individual.
• Know your rights – If you have second thoughts about having the work done, the Federal Trade Commission’s “Cooling-Off Rule” gives you three days to cancel purchases over $25 that are made in your home or at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business.

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Three Steps to Spruce up Your Outdoor Living Space

August 17, 2011 8:03 pm

Warm weather means enjoying dinner al fresco, hosting neighborhood get-togethers and lounging outside. To create a backyard retreat before summer ends, consider these three steps from the outdoor living experts at Trex: 

Get Decked Out — Spend more time enjoying—rather than maintaining— your outdoor living space with materials that need only soap and water to keep a “like new” appearance for decades. Wood-alternative decking resists fading, staining, scratching and mold — even after years of heavy foot traffic and exposure to the elements.

Find the Best Seat Outside the House — Look for outdoor dining and seating options that combine livable design with worry-free durability. Find furniture that stands up to the sun, rain, wind, saltwater or snow and features all-weather fabrics that don’t need to be taken inside every time storm clouds threaten.

Brighten Up — Light up the night and extend the amount of time you can spend outside—while saving money on maintenance and energy costs—with proper lighting for the deck. 

“An outdoor living space should be just as comfortable and stylish as a home’s interior, while reflecting personal tastes and interests,” says Ron Kaplan, chairman, president and CEO of Trex, a manufacturer of wood-alternative decking and railing. 

For more outdoor living inspiration and information, visit www.trex.com.

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Three Steps to Spruce up Your Outdoor Living Space

August 17, 2011 8:03 pm

Warm weather means enjoying dinner al fresco, hosting neighborhood get-togethers and lounging outside. To create a backyard retreat before summer ends, consider these three steps from the outdoor living experts at Trex: 

Get Decked Out — Spend more time enjoying—rather than maintaining— your outdoor living space with materials that need only soap and water to keep a “like new” appearance for decades. Wood-alternative decking resists fading, staining, scratching and mold — even after years of heavy foot traffic and exposure to the elements.

Find the Best Seat Outside the House — Look for outdoor dining and seating options that combine livable design with worry-free durability. Find furniture that stands up to the sun, rain, wind, saltwater or snow and features all-weather fabrics that don’t need to be taken inside every time storm clouds threaten.

Brighten Up — Light up the night and extend the amount of time you can spend outside—while saving money on maintenance and energy costs—with proper lighting for the deck. 

“An outdoor living space should be just as comfortable and stylish as a home’s interior, while reflecting personal tastes and interests,” says Ron Kaplan, chairman, president and CEO of Trex, a manufacturer of wood-alternative decking and railing. 

For more outdoor living inspiration and information, visit www.trex.com.

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For Your College Bound Kids: Stay Safe This Semester with Campus Fire Safety Tips

August 17, 2011 8:03 pm

Along with the return of the school season, the month of September also marks campus fire safety month. McDaniel, a leader in full-service fire suppression, fire alarm and security systems for over 75 years, is offering some helpful tips to keep college students informed and safe this school year. 

According to FireSafety.gov, a Web site supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Fire Administration, most campus fires are caused due to a general lack of knowledge about fire safety and prevention. Cooking is also among the leading causes of fire injuries on college campuses, closely followed by careless smoking, alcohol use and arson. 

Here are some easy tips to follow to keep your dorm room or apartment safe from fire: 

Ask the right questions before you start school: Students and parents should ask school officials important questions such as: "Does every room have a smoke alarm?" "How often are fire drills conducted?" "Are the residence halls equipped with automatic fire sprinkler systems?" "How many fires have occurred on campus in the past few years?" Being knowledgeable about your campus fire safety program can help keep you safe in the event of a fire.
Don't hide from fire alarms: Treat every fire drill as if it were the real thing, even if it occurs at 3 a.m. Leave the building immediately and close all doors behind you. Always be aware of alternative exits in case your main exit is blocked. Keep clutter out of hallways and entrances because they can become deadly obstacles to your escape.
Limit your use of open flames: The use of candles and indoor smoking are other top causes of on-campus fires. Don't allow smoking inside your dorm room or apartment and do not leave burning candles unattended. Finally, keep candles in a sturdy holder that keeps them away from papers, bedding, curtains and other flammable materials.
Never remove the batteries from your smoke or carbon monoxide detector: These devices can save your life, so taking out the batteries for use in other electronic devices is not a good idea. Always ensure that your smoke or carbon monoxide detectors are working properly and have fresh batteries at all times. An easy way to remember to change the batteries on these devices is to do it when you change your clocks for daylight savings time.
Appliance safety: Be sure to use appliances only as they were intended to be used and keep them in good working order. Appliances such as hot plates, electrical blankets, irons, toaster ovens, hair dryers and portable space heaters all can become fire hazards if not properly used and attended too. Do not use any appliances or lamps that spark.
Don't overload outlets: Using a series of adaptors to connect numerous machines or devices to an electrical outlet may result in an overload, power outage, spark or fire. Do not plug more than two devices into one electrical outlet. If multiple devices must be plugged into one outlet, have a licensed electrician evaluate the demands that can be placed on the power source. If an extension cord must be used, be sure to use an-approved (by a national testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories® - UL) and correctly rated extension cord for use with the particular appliance and location.
Follow school rules on in-house cooking: Cooking is the second leading cause of dorm fires after arson. The majority of cooking fires are started due to inattentiveness. Selecting appliances with automatic shut-off switches is a great idea for dorm rooms. Don't use stoves and microwaves for storage and don't use them to help heat a cold dorm room or apartment. Lastly, keep a functional fire extinguisher nearby the cooking area and make sure you know how to use it. 

For more information, visit www.mcdanielfire.com.

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