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

Word of the Day

June 13, 2011 5:27 pm

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

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Concrete Design Options That Enhance Home Exteriors

June 13, 2011 5:27 pm

Enhance the curb appeal of a home’s exteriors with six innovative concrete design options compiled by ConcreteNetwork.com. These six popular options—great for exterior home design and improvement—show how concrete can be applied to various areas of a home’s façade, transforming the overall character of a home. 

Over the years, home builders have started to focus less and less on the exterior design of a home, while putting more emphasis on interior design. Homes are more frequently being designed with little to no exterior character, which can lessen curb appeal. 

Simple upgrades made to exterior siding, entryways, walkways, driveways, landscaping and architectural elements can make a home unique and more alluring. Here are six concrete design possibilities to enhance a lackluster home exterior:

1. For driveways, colors and textures can make a noticeable difference.

2. Walkways can benefit from custom stamped patterns and staining.

3. Landscaping can be accentuated with the use of decorative concrete curbing.

4. Entryways can be more inviting by adding a flight of steps and a decorative finish.

5. Adding architectural accents with precast concrete columns, arches and more can personalize a home.

6. Exterior siding can be enhanced with faux stone and stucco applications made from concrete. 

For more design ideas and tips on increasing a home’s curb appeal through landscaping, visit LandscapingNetwork.com.

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Why Don't My Credit Scores Match?

June 13, 2011 5:27 pm

Perhaps your clients have truly realized that now is a great time to buy and they want to take advantage of some great home-buying opportunities before they disappear.

Interest rates are still low for people with excellent credit, so advise your clients to update their records and purchase a credit report from a reputable credit report provider.

However, while the score they saw was a 920, they score the lender pulls up is an 810—what happened?

First, you need to understand a little about credit scores. Your credit score is a three-digit number that helps lending institutions assess their risk associated with lending you money. Credit scores are used for home loans, auto loans, personal loans and credit cards.

However, it doesn’t end there. Your score may also be considered for non-lending purposes, such as new utility services, cell phone services, renting an apartment, a lease, auto insurance and even to assess your character as part of a new job background check.

People with lower credit scores may pay higher interest rates or may not be approved at all. Whereas, those with higher, less-risky credit scores often qualify for lower interest rates and special options. Credit scores are calculated based on computer “predictability” models. These models are designed to compare and analyze credit information and credit utilization patterns from your credit report against thousands of other consumers. The data is then evaluated using a complex mathematical algorithm that generates a credit score the moment a report is ordered.

There are literally trillions of score combinations used in the calculations. Most credit scores are calculated and provided individually by each credit bureau, including the three major ones in the U.S., which are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Additionally, many lenders use third-party credit scoring systems, such as FICO, NextGen, CE Score and VantageScore. For consumers, the variations in scoring models and score ranges can create some confusion.

In 2006, the three major bureaus joined forces to create a single credit scoring system called the VantageScore. The VantageScore and FICO model lead the industry as competitive rivals in credit-scoring systems.

VantageScore provides a standardized universal mathematical formula to create a credit score from data found on reports from the three major bureaus. Your VantageScore may not be exactly the same if your lender only orders a credit report from one of the bureaus. This is because the data each bureau receives may be slightly different.

As an example, if your auto loan lender does not report your payment history to Equifax but does report it to Experian and TransUnion, it will create a difference in scores. In theory, the VantageScore should be more consistent across all three bureaus since the mathematical formula is the same.

Unlike FICOs traditional 300-850 credit score range, the VantageScore ranges from 501-990. There is no true way to compare the results of the VantageScore to a FICO score especially when the formulas are constantly changing. However, to put some perspective in place, a 650 FICO score approximately compares to a low, 800-range VantageScore.

Although the exact formulas and algorithms for calculating credit scores are closely guarded secrets, FICO and Vantage do provide general key characteristics that drive their credit scoring models. The one constant for both scoring systems is that paying your debts on time will typically be the primary factor that positively impacts your credit score.

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Great Ideas for Creating an Innovative Environment

June 13, 2011 5:27 pm

Despite the dissolution of job perks or cuts that have occurred in this economy, many people are still enjoying their jobs. Why? Because of their company’s culture—especially one that invites idea-sharing and innovation; employees feel like they are contributing to something.

Here, score.org offers five ways you can create an innovative and collaborative environment:

1. Show your employees that you think of innovation as an ongoing process. Some ideas will work and many won’t. Keep experimenting.

2. Listen, listen, listen. Innovation is a collaborative process.

3. Be open to “accidents,” the unexpected connections that spark new ideas. Inspiration comes from everywhere—often from outside your own field.

4. Draw on your own employees—they know the company’s problems and goals best. This is probably one time you don’t need outside consultants.

5. Be patient. Creativity can’t be hurried.


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5 Money Saving Tips

June 13, 2011 5:27 pm

These clever tips help keep your cash where it belongs—in your pocket! 

1. Buy Bulk with a Friend
Know your needs. Bulk items are only worth buying if you can use them before they expire. Consider shopping with a friend and splitting perishables such as meat and dairy products. 

2. Inexpensive Art
Take a photo of something you love—a dog that comes every time you call, a keepsake with beautiful cursive and a colorful stamp, your lucky Tuesday-night poker deck. You can blow it up with some hassle-free Internet help, then frame it, hang it, and be enormously happy every time you walk by. 

3. Make Clothes Last Longer
Prepare your clothes for the washer by closing zippers, fastening hooks, and turning items inside out. Wash darks together using the cold-water cycle so they don't bleed onto lighter clothes—and cold water is crucial, since it lowers your water-heating costs. Line-drying dark items will also help maintain their original appearance—and you'll save on heating costs of the dryer.

4. Pass on the Paper Towels
Instead of spending money on pack after pack of paper towels, buy reusable microfiber towels, which grip dirt and dust like a magnet and don't let go, even when wet. When you're finished, toss the towels in the wash and reuse. (One brand to try: Method, available at Target and Office Depot.)
5. Adjust Your Water Heater

Lower your water heater's thermostat to 120 degrees to restrict heat loss. The exception: dishwashers. Check if yours has a "booster heater" for sanitizing 140-degree rinsing. Your potential annual savings: $450 and 215 pounds of emissions.

For more money saving tips, visit www.marthastewart.com.

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Play It Cool This Summer: National Trauma Institute Offers Safety Tips for Families during a Fun yet Dangerous Season

June 10, 2011 11:27 am

As final school bells ring and families put the finishing touches on vacation itineraries, emergency rooms are preparing for "trauma season" in a very different way. The National Trauma Institute (NTI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing death and disability related to trauma injury, warns the best laid summer plans and activities can often lead to serious injury and death related to preventable accidents.

Traumatic injury is the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 1 and 44, and accounts for more than 37 million emergency department visits each year. The number of emergency room admissions across the country will spike this summer from trauma-related incidents including motor vehicle crashes, bike accidents, falls, near-drownings and other hazards related to summertime activities.

"Someone in the U.S. dies every three minutes from traumatic injury," says Sharon Smith, executive director of NTI. "Our country and world have already witnessed massive amounts of devastation and injury this year from natural disasters beyond anyone's control. It's crucial to keep ourselves and our children safe using common sense and simple measures to prevent injury whenever possible."

NTI offers the following tips to keep you and your family out of harm's way this summer and all year round:

Make auto safety a priority. Always avoid texting or cell phone use while driving, properly attach car seats for children and map out routes ahead of time. Program a dashboard GPS unit, or if necessary, pull the car over to a safe place before consulting a map.
• Keep a well-stocked first aid kit in your home and car. Not every injury qualifies as a traumatic one, of course, but untreated bleeding can make a moderate injury much worse. A well-stocked first aid kit will help you address everything from cuts to more severe injuries.
• Keep fire extinguishers in and around the house. In a multi-story home, there should be one on each floor, or at least near the kitchen and master bedroom. For outdoor grills, BBQs and bonfire pits, keep a fire extinguisher and/or hose attached to an outdoor faucet nearby.
• Wear protective equipment and safety gear at all times. Adults and children alike should always wear helmets, elbow and knee pads when biking, skating and riding on motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
• Always use caution in the water. Keep enough life jackets on board a boat for every passenger. Never leave children alone in the water, and only swim in designated areas of a beach supervised by a lifeguard.
• Keep cell phone chargers in your car, home and office. A properly charged cell phone is a lifeline in the event of serious injury. Getting qualified first responders to the scene in a timely manner can literally be the difference between life and death.
Know where the closest trauma center is. Only certain hospitals around the country have the resources to be a designated trauma center. Locate an accredited facility near you at http://www.facs.org/trauma/verified.html.

About the National Trauma Institute
The National Trauma Institute (NTI) assembles public and private resources to support trauma research across the country, sets a national trauma research agenda, and supports military and civilian innovation and collaboration in trauma care and research. Since 2008, the organization has awarded $4 million to 16 studies now taking place in 20 states. Learn more about NTI at www.nationaltraumainstitute.org.

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Lawn Thatching, Deconstructed

June 10, 2011 11:27 am

In our previous segment, your RIS Consumer Confidant began looking into thatch, and the toll thatch takes on a healthy lawn. This time we’ll look into the practice and the art of effectively dethatching to help homeowners develop the best looking lawn on the block, naturally.

Our source at the University of California Dept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) say the frequency of thatch removal depends upon how fast the thatch layer builds. Lawns that are over-watered, over-fertilized, or growing on heavy clay soils may accumulate thatch quickly.

According to the university’s IPM experts, small to average sized lawns can be dethatched with a simple thatching rake available at lawn and garden stores. A thatching rake has thick blades that are designed to dig into the turf and loosen the thatch layer.

Just pull the rake across the lawn, bringing the thatch up to the soil surface, and remove or discard the debris.

For large lawns, you may need to use a contraption called a vertical mower to cut through the soil surface. Also known as a verticutter or dethatcher, this mower has a series of revolving blades that cut through the thatch and bring it to the surface.

The depth to where the vertical blades penetrate is adjustable and should be determined by thatch thickness and your turf species. These mowers can be rented or have a professional do the job for you.

Some other points about thatch from UC:
• In general, grasses with a creeping growth habit tend to produce heavier thatch layers than bunch-type grasses so set the blades so that they cut about 1 inch into the soil and 1 inch apart.
• For bunch grasses, set the blade higher and further apart.
• Before dethatching, mow your turf a little lower than you normally would and lightly moisten the soil surface.
• Run the verticutter across the lawn in one direction.
• Once you have dethatched the entire lawn, make a second pass over the lawn at an angle perpendicular to the first pass.
• Remove the debris with a rake and dispose of it.
• Follow up by aerating, fertilizing, and watering as needed.
• Overseed as necessary. 

By naturally de-thatching, homeowners can contribute to their lawn’s organic health and superior looks. And this practice can easily provide those benefits in as little as an afternoon’s time just once or twice a year.

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Intel Research Eyes Home Energy and Building Efficiency

June 10, 2011 11:27 am

When it comes to energy, Intel's biggest concern is keeping a lid on the power used at giant data centers. But researchers at Intel, a world leader in silicon innovation and processor technology development, are seriously looking at home energy as well.

During the recent Research@Intel conference in Mountain View, Calif., Intel set up a “Personal Energy Zone” that showcased its efforts to use computing to improve efficiency and boost the use of renewable energy sources.

One demonstration scheduled to go into trials soon is the Wireless Energy Sensing Technology (WEST), a device that plugs into a socket and uses a home wireless network to report power usage of individual items.

The device recognizes the "signatures" of major electrical loads in a home and will transmit the information to a PC, smartphone, or TV. The WEST prototype Intel showed is a box about the size of soda bottle that plugs into a regular electrical outlet.

Because large appliances, such as a refrigerator or air conditioner, make up the bulk of home energy use, getting better information on them will help people use them more efficiently. For example, the device could help someone better set the thermostat settings or find electronics that are on when no one is using them.

During a demonstration, an Intel researcher said more detailed monitoring could reduce energy consumption by 15 percent and higher.

Other demonstrations in the Personal Energy Zone of the conference included Eco-Sense Buildings, which use sensors to monitor indoor conditions such as temperature and occupancy. By gathering data from sensors and building management systems, Intel expects that buildings that are net generators of energy are possible.

Another area of research ties large-scale renewable energy with data centers. Getting renewable energy penetration on the grid beyond 30 percent is difficult because solar and wind vary, which makes it difficult for grid operators to ensure a stable supply of power. Intel is researching to see if the varying output of solar farms can be synchronized with data center electricity loads, so they would scale down power use when a solar farm's output drops.

Home energy challenge

Intel has been dabbling in home energy for a few years now and has signed on some companies to use its chips for touch-screen display for managing energy, home security, and media. Until now, Intel has largely talked about home energy and efficiency as an application that can be part of a home-automation system.

For example, Intel researchers have shown a prototype home energy dashboard that works with a smart meter for people to view energy data, control appliances, and do a few other tasks like leaving video messages for each other. It also published a reference design in the hopes of getting third-party companies to build add-on applications.

One advantage of Intel's plug-in sensor approach is that the installation is straightforward and should cost less than more complex alternatives. It could also tie into Intel's Home Energy Management System dashboard, the company said. Intel is one of many companies trying to make home energy management systems, including Cisco, Tendril Networks, and Control4, which are selling largely through utilities.

Home energy monitor makers say the devices are effective in shaving overall and peak-time energy usage. But one of the challenges with energy dashboards is the cost, which can be several hundred dollars, posing a challenge to direct consumer sales even with savings through energy efficiency. Another ongoing question is how actively consumers will be involved in energy beyond the occasional glance at bills.

There are already a number of whole-home energy monitors, which use different methods for surfacing information. Some get room-by-room energy profiles by attaching clamps onto wires going into a home's circuit box, which in many cases will require an electrician to set up. The PowerCost Monitor uses optical sensors attached to electricity meter, which can be done quickly, but it doesn't provide device-level usage information.

Another approach technology companies are pursuing is smart plugs that monitor power consumption. ThinkEco, for example, is coming out this year with a plug that will monitor energy and report it to a laptop over Zigbee wireless networks. Belkin purchased a small technology company that also has a system to recognize individual loads over a home's wirings, but that technology has not yet been put into a product.

For more information visit www.cnet.com.

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Question of the Day

June 10, 2011 11:27 am

Q: Can you negotiate interest rates?

A: A few lenders will negotiate the mortgage rate and number of points on a loan. However, this is more the exception than the rule with established lenders. As always, shop around and know the market before you enter a lender’s office. Rates are often published in local newspapers and on Internet Web sites.

You may have more luck when dealing directly with a seller who has agreed to finance your loan. He is likely to be more open to negotiation, particularly when motivated to make a quick sale.


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Word of the Day

June 10, 2011 11:27 am

Appreciation. Increase in property value or worth due to economic or related factors; the opposite of depreciation.


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