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

Gas Prices Still Have Strong Influence on Consumers' Shopping Behavior

July 7, 2011 5:27 pm

More consumers are taking steps to compensate for rising gas prices, as nearly 80% of consumers say they will alter their purchase behavior, according to recent research conducted by market-research firm TNS. 

Burdened by strong gas prices and a sluggish economy, consumers are looking at ways to cut their spending, starting with their monthly grocery bill. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed say they are trimming down and removing items from their "typical" grocery list to save money. "Shoppers are careful and watchful of their money and given the overall level of uncertainty about the economy, it's not a surprise to us to see consumers reign in their spending on groceries," says Dan Boehm, Senior Vice President at TNS. 

But, it's not simply a matter of removing items from a given grocery list. Consumers are also paying close attention to what they're buying. According to the survey, nearly one-third of consumers (30%) are more likely to purchase private label brands than national brands. "For their money, consumers are increasingly seeing an equal or greater value of purchasing more private-label brands," says Boehm. "This is a great opportunity for marketers to communicate why their brands are superior. They should continue to make being visible in the store a priority." 

As they pay more at the pump and consolidate their shopping lists, consumers are making fewer trips and often choosing to shop at discount stores (32%) over traditional retail outlets. "Even as gas prices have receded a little from their peak, our research shows consumers are adjusting their grocery shopping patterns to manage a more uncertain conservative purchase environment," says Boehm "More than ever, grocery retailers need to clearly articulate the value proposition they give their shoppers as shoppers make fewer trips per week, buy less and look for discounts." 

For more information, please visit www.tns-us.com.

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Bulking Up More Difficult for Older Adults than Young

July 7, 2011 5:27 pm

While muscle strength can be maintained by exercising just one day per week, a report released this month by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) says that older adults may need more frequent exercise than their young counterparts to maintain muscle size. 

The report, titled “Exercise Dosing to Retain Resistance Training Adaptations in Young and Older Adults,” was published this month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, ACSM’s official scientific journal. This two-phase exercise trial, led by Marcas Bamman, Ph.D., sought to determine the appropriate exercise dose to maintain muscle mass, muscle size and strength in older (between ages 60 and 75) and younger (between ages 20 and 35) adults. 

“All adults should include progressive resistance exercise in their weekly regimen, but there will always be times, such as extended travel or a family illness, when exercise is difficult to sustain,” says Bamman, who is a researcher with the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Stopping exercise altogether—called detraining—leads to significant strength reductions after just a few weeks. Our team sought to determine how little exercise a person needs to maintain strength.” 

Seventy adults—39 in the younger age group and 31 in the older age group—completed the first phase of the trial, which lasted 16 weeks. In phase one, participants performed three sets of three resistance training exercises—leg press, knee extensions and squats—three times a week. Fifty-six participants completed phase two of the trial, which lasted 32 weeks. In phase two, participants were randomly sorted into three reduced training groups. The first group stopped training altogether. The second group reduced training to one-third, decreasing exercise days from three to one. The third group reduced training to one-ninth, both decreasing exercise days from three to one and also reducing training sets from three to one. 

Results indicate that improvements in strength can be retained for an extended period after training ceases. While once-a-week exercise is sufficient to maintain strength, there are age-specific differences in the required dose to maintain muscle size. Within the younger group, there was a dose-response such that one-third exercise volume continued to increase muscle size, one-ninth exercise volume maintained size and detraining caused atrophy. In the older group, no group maintained muscle size. Older adults likely require more frequent training to maintain muscle mass gained from resistance exercise. 

“Our data are the first to suggest that older adults require greater weekly maintenance dosing than younger individuals to maintain resistance training-induced increases in muscle mass,” says Bamman. “We are not advocating that people only train one day a week indefinitely, but we do believe such a program can be effective during temporary periods when it is difficult to maintain a consistent, intensive exercise regimen several days per week.” 

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 40,000 international, national and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine. 

For more information, please visit ACSM online at http://www.acsm.org.

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Smartphones and Tablets Replacing Alarm Clocks, GPS Devices & Digital Cameras, According to Mobile Survey

July 7, 2011 5:27 pm

Smartphones and tablets, loaded with features and apps, are replacing other technology devices for many consumers, according to a recent mobile survey conducted by Prosper Mobile Insights™ among smartphone and tablet users on their devices. A majority of smartphone/tablet users say their mobile device has replaced a traditional alarm clock (61.1%) and a GPS device (52.3%). Four in 10 smartphone/tablet users say their mobile device has replaced a digital camera (44.3%), a personal planner (41.6%) and a landline phone (40.3%). More than a third no longer need a separate MP3 player (37.6%) or a video camera (34.2%). 

Replaced by Smartphone or Tablet:
Alarm Clock: 61.1%
GPS: 52.3%
Digital camera: 44.3%
Personal planner: 41.6%
Landline phone: 40.3%
MP3 Player: 37.6%
Video Camera: 34.2%
Newspaper: 28.2%
Radio: 27.5%
Desktop/Laptop Computer: 24.2%
Gaming device: 20.8%
Books: 20.1%
Internet service at home: 19.5%
DVD Player: 14.1% 

Source: Prosper Mobile Insights™ Mobile Survey, June-11 

It is no surprise that smartphones and tablets can easily take the place of other devices or media outlets, but can they replace a wallet? 57.7% of smartphone and tablet owners say they would be somewhat or very comfortable using their device to make a purchase in a store. 22.8% are unsure while 19.5% would be not at all or not very comfortable using this new “swipe technology.” 

Despite innovative new gadgets, thousands of apps and a growing number of uses for new mobile devices, consumers still say reliable service is key. A vast majority (77.9%) of smartphone/tablet users say the best service is more important than the newest technology (22.1%). 

For more information, please visit http://www.surveysampling.com.

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Allergens, Bed Bugs Await College Students Reporting to Campus, Experts Warn

July 7, 2011 5:27 pm

Students who regard their dorm room bed as a comfortable, carefree refuge where they rest and unwind may want to reevaluate. Information from the institutional bedding industry indicates that most colleges and universities replace mattresses in on-campus housing facilities on a four-to-five year schedule. Those familiar with what happens to a mattress after years of typical dorm use say allergens associated with dust particles, dust mites, mold and fungus can be an issue in even the most well-maintained campus residence facilities. Added to those worries are bedbug infestations and other sanitary concerns associated with used bedding. 

According to information from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), "Dorm life breeds mold, dust mites, bacteria and viruses. It is important to keep your room clean and free of these triggers. Remember to encase bedding with dust mite proof covers and wash sheets and blankets weekly in hot water, to keep your room free of dust mites and other airborne particles," advises an AAAAI fact sheet for students with allergies. 

“When it comes to allergens, microbial presence and even ordinary dust particles, a regular mattress cover and sheets cannot provide a protective barrier between the mattress and the person sleeping in that bed night after night,” says Traci Broughton, product manager for Precision Fabrics Group in Greensboro, NC. “Preventing contact with allergens and other foreign material requires specially manufactured bedding products.” 

Broughton says mattress and pillow encasements made from Pristine® fabric provide a solution. “Pristine® fabric is made from tightly woven yarns that make the material impenetrable to allergens and other particles, plus they’re finished with an anti-microbial treatment,” she explains. “They’re soft and breathable, and can be washed as frequently as ordinary bedding without breaking down or losing their protective properties.” 

On the bed bug front, "Word of infestations occurs almost weekly (during the school year), as the pests have found their way into residence facilities across the U.S.," according to Wayne Walker, the senior pest control technician for the department of Housing and Residence Education at the University of Florida, who provides advice on preventing or minimizing bed bug infestations to members of the Association of College and University Housing Officers. "Due to the severity of the problem and the frequency of student travelers, bedbug outbreaks have increased in residence facilities and likely will continue to occur." 

Broughton says mattress and pillow encasements are an important tool in protecting students from bed bugs that have taken up residence in their dorm mattress. "Bud bugs cannot bite though or escape from an encasement made from Pristine® fabric," she explains. "If the bugs or their eggs are already in a mattress, Pristine fabric create a barrier between them and the student." 

Products made with Pristine® fabrics are available from a number of online specialty catalogs. For a list of suppliers, visit http://www.pristinefabrics.com.

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Word of the Day

July 7, 2011 5:27 pm

Close. Act of finalizing a transaction in which all the concerned parties meet to transfer title to a property. Also, when real estate formally changes ownership.

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Question of the Day

July 6, 2011 5:27 pm

Q: Why do homeowners have to pay property taxes?

A: Property taxes are assessed by city and county governments to generate the bulk of their operating revenues. The taxes help pay for such public services as schools, libraries, roads, and police protection.
Re-valuations of the tax are often done periodically, although the time interval varies from state to state or, in some states, from town to town, and can range from annual reassessments to periods of ten years or more.

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Lugar ‘Practical Energy Plan’ Would Save Americans $33 Billion Annually by Reducing Energy Needs 4%

July 6, 2011 5:27 pm

An energy bill unveiled recently on Facebook by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) , an honorary vice-chair of the Alliance to Save Energy, would save Americans more than $33 billion annually with a variety of immediate and longer-term energy efficiency initiatives for autos, buildings and industry. By trimming U.S. energy needs and leveraging private investments in energy efficiency, the Practical Energy Plan of 2011 would encourage job-creating economic growth, improve U.S. global competitiveness and protect the environment.

“The Alliance commends our honorary congressional vice-chair, Sen. Lugar, for proposing sound, cost-effective public policy that deploys a foundation of energy efficiency to save taxpayers money, create jobs and keep U.S. industry competitive” says Alliance President Kateri Callahan. “The senator’s bill demonstrates that energy efficiency advances national priorities that resonate with Americans across the political spectrum and in all regions of the country.”

Lugar Bill Creates Energy Efficiency Targets
The Lugar bill sets annual fuel efficiency improvement targets of 4% or more, reducing U.S. oil dependence by 2.7 million barrels of oil daily and saving consumers $400 to $550 a year.

Further, the bill leverages private financing to provide low-cost loans to homeowners, small businesses, nonprofits and commercial facilities for cost-saving energy efficiency upgrades to buildings. A separate provision facilitates low-interest loans to rural homeowners and businesses for energy efficiency retrofits.

The bill also requires that all new federal buildings meet or exceed national model energy efficiency codes and accelerates implementation of Energy Saving Performance Contracts (ESPCs). The latter provision will save taxpayers $800 million annually in avoided federal energy costs.

Boosting American Competitiveness
By accelerating deployment of energy-saving equipment and processes in U.S manufacturing with a self-sustaining, low-cost loan program administered by state and local governments, the bill would save 1.1 quadrillion Btu per year and boost American competitiveness.

Callahan concludes, “The Lugar bill is a sound national investment with a tremendous return. In addition to the tremendous money and energy savings, the bill is expected to leverage considerable private dollars to maximize various federal investments.”

For more information, please visit www.ase.org.


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Export-Related Jobs Surge in 2010

July 6, 2011 5:27 pm

U.S. exports supported an estimated 9.2 million jobs in 2010, up from 8.7 million in 2009, according to a report issued recently by the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. For every billion dollars of exports, over 5,000 jobs are supported.

“The exports surge in 2010 supported an additional half million jobs for U.S. workers—growth critical to America’s economic recovery,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says. “It’s easy to understand why it’s so important to reach President Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2015 and doing more than ever to help U.S. businesses reach the 95 percent of consumers who live outside our borders.”

New data also shows employment supported by manufactured exports plays a significant role in many states. Twenty-one states each counted over 100,000 jobs supported by manufactured exports in 2009, with two states registering more than a half-million—California at 616,500 jobs, and Texas at 538,500 jobs.

“As we continue to make progress in reaching the goals of the President’s National Export Initiative, we are confident that the number of jobs supported by exports will continue to rise,” says Francisco Sánchez, under secretary of commerce for international trade. “More businesses are reaching customers in foreign markets and seeing their sales rise which leads to more good-paying jobs in the United States.”

The recent report updates ITA’s April 2010 report “Exports Support American Jobs,” and highlights that, now more than ever, exports are central to a strong U.S. economy. The value of exports that support one job was $181,000 in 2010, an increase of $17,000, or 10 percent from the 2009 figure, as export prices and productivity have strengthened.

“The International Trade Administration is committed to helping U.S. firms find lucrative exporting opportunities around the globe, and ensuring access to these markets,” Sánchez says. “Our efforts improve the global business environment and help U.S. companies compete abroad, creating jobs at home.”

The International Trade Administration has a lead role in implementing the National Export Initiative and helps businesses grow through exports.

For more information, please visit www.commerce.gov.

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Consumer Reports: Six Ways to Save on Your Pet

July 6, 2011 5:27 pm

Despite the economic downturn, Americans have not cut back on spending on Fluffy and Fido. According to a survey from the Consumer Reports National Research Center, during the darkest days of the recession in 2009 and 2010, only 16 percent of Americans said they reduced the amount they spent on their pets.

On top of this, the price of pet food, veterinary care and other pet-related products and services has risen 4 percent since 2008.

To help consumers keep more money in their pockets during these tough times, Consumer Reports compiled six ways for pet owners to curb expenses and still provide the best of care.

"It's still possible to save hundreds of dollars a year on pet care without shortchanging your furry, finned, or feathered friends," says Greg Daugherty, Executive Editor, Consumer Reports.

1. Don't pay a premium for pet food. Food is the biggest ongoing cost of owning a cat or dog. CR's survey respondents spent an average of $36 a month on food for dogs and $20 a month on food for cats. A significant part of the national pet-food bill goes for so-called premium and super-premium varieties. But "premium" has no legal definition in terms of nutritional quality. Pets with problems such as sensitive skin, digestive difficulties, or obesity might do better on special types of food, so talk with your vet. Even in those cases, you're likely to find significant price differences among equally appropriate foods.

Other ways to save: Hit the big box stores. CR sent secret shoppers around the country in search of the same list of pet-food brands and package weights. Target and Walmart had the lowest prices most of the time, cheaper than supermarkets and specialty retailers. Consider store and private–label brands. Among the least expensive pet foods CR found (on a unit-price basis) were Costco's Kirkland Signature, PetSmart's Grreat Choice, Safeway's store brand, and Walmart's Ol' Roy.

2. Consider new options for flea and tick protection. The big news on the flea and tick protection front is that the patent has expired on fipronil, one of the active ingredients in Frontline Plus, a leading brand, opening the market to competitors. CR found two that were new to the market, SentryFiproGuard Plus at Petco and PetArmor Plus at Walmart. The savings can be sizable. PetArmor Plus was the best deal CR saw: A three-month supply cost $28, compared with $50 for FiproGuard Plus and $62 for Frontline Plus at Petco.

Other ways to save: Shop online (mostly). CR found cheaper prices at 1-800-PetMeds, Drs. Foster & Smith and PetCareRx than at Petco or PetSmart. But the internet sellers didn't sell PetArmorPlus, and only two of the three carried FiproGuard Plus when CR checked in early June.

3. Comparison shop for your pet's veterinary care. Survey respondents spoke glowingly of their vets in general, but they were far more critical of the vets' efforts to keep costs down. Because veterinary care is an infrequent, sometimes emergency expenditure, it's difficult for consumers to gauge what constitutes a fair price for any of the hundreds of services their pet might require. The best time to comparison shop is when your pet needs a routine checkup, not when you're stressed out by a sick or injured animal.

Call at least two or three nearby vets and ask what their physical-exam fee is.
Nationally, it can range from roughly $35 to $46. That difference might seem like small change, but the exam fee forms the cornerstone of every vet bill, and vets often set their other fees as a percentage or multiple of that charge.

Consequently, the range of fees to, say, repair a midsized dog's tibial fracture can grow significantly wider: $726 to $1,207.

4. Don't automatically get pet medicines from the vet. About two-thirds of the pet owners CR surveyed for this report said they buy their pet medicines from the vet who prescribes them. That's often a mistake because vets' markups over wholesale start at 100 percent and frequently hit 160 percent, plus a $5 to $15 dispensing fee. If your pet is taking a medication that's also prescribed to humans, as is often the case, you might be able to have the prescription filled inexpensively at a chain drugstore, supermarket pharmacy, or big-box retailer.

Walgreens, for example, allows customers to enroll their pets as family members in its Prescription Savings Club. Another option is to shop at one of the Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Eleven such sites currently exist, including 1-800-PetMeds, Drs. Foster & Smith, KV Vet Supply, and PetCareRX.

5. Think twice before you buy pet health insurance. If you're the kind of person who would do almost anything for your pets, insurance can seem like an attractive option. For monthly premiums of less than $10 to more than $90, the insurers promise to pay a portion of your pet's bills for medical and surgical treatment, and depending on the policy, some other types of care. You pay the vet up front, file a claim, and wait for reimbursement. CR analyzed policies marketed by insurers representing roughly 90 percent of the pet-insurance market. None would have reimbursed more than the premiums they charged for a basically healthy dog over a 10-year life span. Only when CR looked at extreme and uncommon situations involving two very sick cats did all the policies pay out more than a pet-owner would have paid in.

For most people, CR advises they budget for routine care and put a few hundred dollars each year for more serious health problems into their household emergency fund.

6. Take simple steps now to prevent costly health problems. Brushing your dog's teeth with chicken flavored toothpaste or your cat's with the fish-flavored variety might seem silly, but it's a preventive measure that can be beneficial. Tooth plaque can lead to periodontal disease in pets, which, in turn, can cause kidney and lung disease.

Other smart preventatives: Spaying reduces mammary tumors in female animals, and neutering might reduce aggression as well as some diseases in males. Keep shots current, but don't over-vaccinate; the core vaccines are needed every three years, not annually. Keep dogs leashed and fenced in for the protection of the animals and your neighbors. Try not to overfeed your pet: Obesity rates in cats and dogs mirror those of humans these days. Being significantly overweight can lead to arthritis and diabetes for your pet and huge prescription bills for you.

For more information, please visit www.cunsumerreports.org.


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Six Ways to Save Money on Your Car Insurance

July 6, 2011 5:27 pm

For many drivers, a few simple lifestyle or habit changes can drastically affect the rates we pay for car insurance, according to Certified Financial Planner Joel Ohman.

“Even if you have recently checked for the best available rates,” Ohman says, “the rates change all the time. You need to be vigilant about checking regularly —and there are several ways to save money that every insurance buyer should know.” 

Here are Ohman’s seven possibilities for cutting car insurance costs:
• Drop coverage you no longer need – Just as adding a teen driver may up your rates, moving to a less busy zip code may reduce them. Check with your agent after any family or lifestyle change to see if any part of your coverage may be dropped.
• Search for discounts – New discounts pop up all the time. Check online with competing companies every six months or so to see if you qualify for any of them.
Improve your credit score – Car insurance rates are affected by credit score. If you’ve been working to improve yours, check with your agent to see how better scores may affect your rates.
• Pay premiums with a credit card – Paying your premiums with a cash back credit card can help you shave between one and five percent off your car insurance rate, depending on how much cash back your credit card offers.
Tell your kids to keep their grades up – Just about every insurance company offers some kind of good student discount. If your kids get good grades, you save money. You can even pay the kids some of the money you saved as an incentive to keep up those good grades.
• Take a driving course – Check with your carrier to see what courses they recommend that will result in reduced premiums—like a 55 Alive driving course for seniors, or a defensive driving course open to all.

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