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

Mother Nature Turns Up the Heat and Homeowners Pay the Price

June 7, 2011 5:27 pm

An early summer heat wave has hit regions of the Northeast, Southwest and Gulf Coast, causing many residents to turn to their air conditioners for relief. The early heat has caused the July natural gas wholesale exchange contract to jump to a 10 month high.

MXenergy, one of the nation's leading independent energy providers, advises homeowners to be prepared for not only higher electric bills but higher natural gas costs as well.

"What many people do not realize is the number of electrical plants powered by natural gas," says Jeffrey Mayer, MXenergy President and CEO. "In addition, many nuclear power plants happen to be down for maintenance, placing natural gas power at an even greater premium."

While higher summer temperatures are naturally to be expected, the early onset of above average temperatures across the country has directly impacted natural gas prices.

"After projecting a cooler season, forecasters have been surprised by the wave of fierce heat across the Southeast," says Blas Pina, MXenergy Derivatives Director. "This will have an impact on electricity prices since most power generation is now fired by natural gas, so we can expect natural gas prices to go up in response to the air conditioning demand brought on by record heat."

Opinions among national weather experts are varied as to what the summer of 2011 will actually bring. Many are actually predicting cooler than average temperatures for June through August while others anticipate average or above average temps for most of the country.

"Obviously weather is highly unpredictable," says Mayer. "However, if these higher than normal temperatures continue, homeowners will continue to feel the sting of high costs."

For more information about MXenergy please visit www.mxenergy.com.

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Homeowners Resource Guide to Environmental Hazards

June 7, 2011 5:27 pm

Your RIS Consumer Confidant learned that the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH), and the Connecticut Association of Realtors (CAR), recently produced a resource guide for homeowners and prospective homebuyers, as well as landlords and tenants, about environmental hazards that may affect their residential property.

But the guide is by no means Connecticut exclusive, and similar initiatives are likely to be springing up with realty associations and health agencies across the country as news of the New England project begins to get around.

Gene Fercodini, President of the Connecticut Association of REALTORS®, Inc. says healthy homes build strong communities and this publication gives homeowners the resources they need to ensure that they are maintaining as healthy an environment as possible.

The guide, titled “Environmental Hazards in the Home: A guide for homeowners, homebuyers, landlords and tenants,” has two parts.

The first presents information about what you need to know before you buy a house, and is geared towards buyers and sellers. This part provides important information about environmental conditions such as asbestos, electric and magnetic fields, lead, and radon.

The second part, “What You Need to Know after the Home is Occupied,” is a resource for owners, tenants, and landlords, and covers such topics as allergens and asthma, carbon monoxide, injury prevention and safety, and household hazardous waste.

The guide was produced as part of Connecticut’s Healthy Homes Initiative, a holistic and comprehensive approach designed to address the connection between housing and health. To download or review the report, just visit www.ct.gov/dph.



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Question of the Day

June 6, 2011 5:27 pm

Q: Can I split my mortgage in two and pay biweekly?

A: The biweekly mortgage has become increasingly popular as more people favor paying off their home loan early and reducing interest charges.

Monthly payments on these loans are split in half, payable every two weeks.

Because there are 52 weeks in a year, you actually have 26 half-payments, or the equivalent of 13 monthly payments per year instead of 12.

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Word of the Day

June 6, 2011 5:27 pm

Air rights. Right to occupy and use the open space above a parcel of land or property, such as in the leasing of air space over existing buildings or highways.

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PuroClean Says Summer Brings New Challenges for Preventing Indoor Mold

June 6, 2011 5:27 pm

Should homeowners worry about mold in their homes during the summer months? The answer is an absolute "Yes," according to Steve Leger, executive vice president of operations for PuroClean. "Mold can grow almost anywhere there is moisture," says Leger. "And it grows on almost anything: paper, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood, fabric, insulation, even dust. It can cause serious damage to a family's home and health if the homeowner doesn't take steps to control and deal with it quickly and effectively." 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the key to both preventing and remediating mold in the home is controlling moisture. Mold cannot grow without moisture, so a homeowner needs to identify and control moisture sources in the home to prevent the spread of mold. 

During the warm summer months, the experts from PuroClean advise homeowners to keep an eye on these seasonal sources of moisture and take steps to control or eliminate them: 

• Air conditioner drain pans
• Condensation caused by high indoor humidity or overly cold indoor surfaces
• Outdoor sprinklers set to allow the spray to hit the walls of the home
• Unvented kitchen and bathroom moisture
• Clothes dryers that vent indoors or wet towels and clothing left to dry indoors
• Overwatering house plants
• Moisture from human sources (sweat, wet hair, breath) 

"These less-obvious moisture sources can be as dangerous as the typical leaks, spills and flooding that most homeowners recognize as potential breeding grounds for mold," says Leger. "Mold causes a hazard wherever it grows indoors, so homeowners need to be vigilant about controlling indoor moisture."
PuroClean professionals specialize in property emergency services and can help homeowners overcome the devastating aftermath of property damage caused by water, fire, mold and other conditions, according to Leger. When the damage is caused by water—whether from an indoor leak, flooding, or violent summer storms—technicians work quickly, professionally, and in accordance with restoration industry standards to ensure that the home is dried quickly and completely. This is the best way to help guard against the occurrence of mold. 

"Homeowners need to understand how prevalent mold is and how easy it is for mold to find a foothold in the home," says Leger. "While we can help a homeowner deal with mold after a flood or other disaster, the homeowner needs to stay on the alert to identify and correct everyday sources of moisture before mold has a chance to grow." 

For more information please visit www.puroclean.com.

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Showhomes Home Staging: 5 Reasons Vacant Houses Are Hard to Sell

June 6, 2011 5:27 pm

Musty smelling, bare-walled, vandal-prone properties just don't sell. 

Last year of the estimated 130 million housing units in the United States, 11.3 percent or some 14 million stood vacant according to the U.S. Census. A large portion of these houses are vacant and for sale, leading to a glut of vacant houses crowding the market. 

Showhomes Home Staging is a franchised business with a twist: the company uses live-in Home Managers to manage vacant houses while they are on the market for sale and offset a homeowner's expense to stage the home. 

Here are five reasons a vacant house is hard to sell from Showhomes Home Staging: 

1. People don't simply buy houses; they buy the next chapter of their lives.
This is an emotional experience and emotion influences what people buy and how much they will pay. Vacant houses are devoid of life, and the chance to make an emotional connection is lost. 

2. Vacancy distracts buyers from looking at the house itself.
They wonder: "Is this a divorce? Why did they move out? Are they selling because they have money problems? Is this home hard to sell?" They'll make a low-ball offer, thinking the owner is desperate. 

3. When a house is vacant, buyers focus on flaws.
They look at nail holes, carpet wear and gaps in the molding rather than how the space works. In a vacant house, floors, walls and ceilings are all buyers see. This drives the price down. 

4. People can't visualize how furniture fits.
An empty bedroom might appear awkward or a living room might seem cavernous. Some spaces might confuse buyers because a use is not obvious. Buyers are derailed and move on to the next house. 

5. Vacant houses don't show as well as staged and occupied homes.
Without people, even the best house quickly looks and smells vacant. Dust settles, leaves scatter, and stale odors spread. These cues often shorten the showing time, leading to fewer sales. 

"Homeowners don't realize how much harder a vacant house is to sell," says Matt Kelton, Showhomes' COO. "In today's market you have to win the beauty contest to sell your home." 

For information please visit www.showhomesfranchise.com.

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Rise in New Home Permits Signals Improving Housing Market

June 6, 2011 5:27 pm

Total housing starts in California—as measured by the number of building permits issued this spring—climbed slightly more than 9 percent over last year, according to the California Building Industry Association.

Permits have been pulled for 9,360 new housing units, primarily in the multi-family sector, says Mike Winn, president of the California Building Industry Association. “The modest recovery we were hoping for seems to be getting back on track,” Winn observes. “As the economy slowly improves and employers begin to add more workers to their payrolls, we expect to see construction pick up as consumers begin to regain their confidence in the housing market and create a greater demand for new homes.”

In Orange County—after two years of virtually no new home-building—at least 3,000 new homes in 28 separate tracts, are now under construction and expected to be ready by next fall.

“Builders are coming out of hibernation,” notes Irvine-based housing consultant John Burns. “Builders are an optimistic breed, and they are cautiously optimistic now, gearing up because it takes the best part of a year to get ready for a recovering housing market.”

The increase in new home construction also signals a shrinking inventory of unsold existing homes. In Northern California’s Santa Clara County, for example, the inventory has shrunk to 50 days from 243 a year ago, according to estimates from the California Association of REALTORS®.

“This is just another sign that the state may be coming out of the worst housing slump in decades,” says San Francisco Realtor Jim Wall.

Although most home prices remain well below their pre-bust highs of three years ago, California’s housing market has shown signs of stabilizing, according to the state association. Home prices are rising slowly in many areas as the state shakes off its high unemployment rate and foreclosure rates decline. The median price of an existing single family home has risen 8.4 percent from a year ago.

California’s housing market is closely watched because it is the nation’s largest and helps fuel both the state’s economy and the national building industry.

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How Do You Negotiate Salary?

June 6, 2011 5:27 pm

As the job market recovers, a unique phenomenon is beginning to happen, and one expert warns it could cost you money.

“As people who have been looking for work a long time start to get back into the workforce, many of them are so happy just to get a job that they sometimes accept a lower salary than they have to,” says Bill Humbert, author of RecruiterGuy's Guide to Finding a Job. “Some employers feel that they can probably get away with a lowball offer, and many job hunters will grab it just so they can have a job. The truth is there are ways to get the job and still get what you want.”

Humbert isn’t a career coach, but rather his expertise comes from working the opposite side of the job stream as a recruiting consultant for corporations. He knows how companies calculate salary, and how to judge their thresholds. His advice for job hunters includes:

Don’t Offer Salary Requirements – When you are asked to include salary requirements with your resume, that is typically a company’s first screen, and it can be used against you. I’ve seen people agonize over what to reveal, because they are afraid of pricing themselves out of a good job. My advice is to simply put “Open” in that spot. If your qualifications are on target, they’ll call you. If in the interview you’re asked what you made at your last job, reply by asking about the range for the one you are applying. You’d be surprised how much managers or human resource representatives will tell you.

Don’t Give Away Too Much – In many job applications, an employer will ask for your salary history. It is perfectly acceptable to write “Willing to discuss at appropriate time during interview process,” and leave those numbers blank. Writing down those numbers pigeonholes you, and reduces your negotiation power.

Don’t Negotiate Salary – That’s right. Don’t negotiate salary in the interviews. Instead, negotiate when you’ll give them your salary requirements. When they ask you for that figure, tell them you don’t know what you’d require until you have a clear picture of the job requirements and potential for advancement over the next five years. After you have that information, and you’re asked again for that number, respond by asking to go through what I call your “impacts”—areas of your job that directly impact the company’s bottom line. This discussion will allow you to demonstrate what you bring to the table. At the end of that discussion, simply tell them that you are very interested in the position, and that you’d seriously consider any offer they’d like to make.

Keep Networking – Once you have a job offer, it’s not a done deal until you accept it. Until that happens, keep networking and looking for jobs. It may give you valuable market-worth data about the position you’ve been offered. It may also be a safety net in case something goes awry between the time you receive an offer and the time you accept it.

Accepting the Offer – Once an offer is given, you have the right to ask for a clarification on it. Asking “Is there any flexibility in this offer?” may help to open a discussion of increasing the offer. If it does, don’t expect a large boost in base pay, but rather, an extra week of paid vacation, a signing bonus or other such perks.

“Keep in mind that salary negotiation is more art than science, so these tips may not always apply,” Humbert adds. “Many hourly workers don’t have as much flexibility on pay, and some companies have policies that would require you to adjust the script a little to fit those situations. The key thing to remember is that you don’t have to give them a salary range that would jeopardize your earning potential, and that you don’t have to accept their first offer most of the time. 

Remember that they are interviewing you because they need to fill that position. It’s important to the company to have someone in that job, and while they are considering you, they aren’t doing you a favor. They need what you have to offer, so you should get the best offer out of them that is possible.”

Bill Humbert, also known as RecruiterGuy, is a Washington, DC native and a graduate of Assumption College in Worcester, MA. He has been a professional recruiter since 1981, having worked with clients such as MCI Telecommunications, The Washington Post, Comsat Labs, USF&G Insurance, Geico Insurance, CSX Technology, Telegroup, LeFebure, Intermec Technologies, Digital Broadband Communications, Trex Company, Acciona Energy and others.

For more information, please visit www.recruiterguy.com.

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FDA: Breast Thermography Not a Substitute for Mammography

June 3, 2011 5:27 pm

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently warned women not to substitute breast thermography for mammography to screen for breast cancer.

Unlike mammography, in which an X-ray of the breast is taken, thermography produces an infrared image that shows the patterns of heat and blood flow on or near the surface of the body. Some health care providers claim thermography is superior to mammography as a screening method for breast cancer because it does not require radiation exposure or breast compression.

However, the FDA is unaware of any valid scientific evidence showing that thermography, when used alone, is effective in screening for breast cancer. To date, the FDA has not approved a thermography device (also referred to as a telethermographic device) for use as a stand-alone to screen or diagnose breast cancer. The FDA has cleared thermography devices for use only as an additional diagnostic tool for breast cancer screening and diagnosis. Therefore, FDA says, thermography devices should not be used as a stand-alone method for breast cancer screening or diagnosis.

"Mammography is still the most effective screening method for detecting breast cancer in its early, most treatable stages," says Helen Barr, M.D., director of the Division of Mammography Quality and Radiation Programs in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "Women should not rely solely on thermography for the screening or diagnosis of breast cancer."

The FDA has issued warning letters to some health care providers who have been promoting the inappropriate use of breast thermography. The letters instructed the providers to cease making claims that thermography devices, when used alone, are an effective means of detecting breast cancer. Claims have, for instance, appeared on some providers' websites.

The FDA encourages women to:
• Have regular mammograms according to screening guidelines or as recommended by their health care provider;
• Follow their health care provider's recommendations for additional breast diagnostic procedures, such as various mammographic views, clinical breast exam, breast ultrasound, MRI or biopsy; additional procedures could include thermography;
• Remember that thermography is not a substitute for mammography and should not be used by itself for breast cancer screening or diagnosis.

"While there is plenty of evidence that mammography is effective in breast cancer detection, there is simply no evidence that thermography can take its place," says Barr.

For more information visit www.fda.gov.

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Public Health Experts Advise against Further Privatization of Alcohol Sales

June 3, 2011 5:27 pm

National public health experts are recommending against further privatization of retail alcohol sales based on evidence that privatization would increase excessive alcohol consumption and associated health and social problems, the Keystone Research Center reports in a new policy brief.

The recommendation was made in an April statement from the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, an independent, volunteer body of public health experts created in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"The Task Force statement is the most definitive statement on retail alcohol privatization issued to date by U.S. public health researchers," says Stephen Herzenberg, PhD, Economist and Executive Director of the Keystone Research Center. "It is based on the best available evidence, drawn from research on 'natural experiments' with actual privatizations. The Task Force statement deserves close examination as Pennsylvania lawmakers consider a proposal to privatize state wine and spirits stores."

In the Task Force statement, researchers explained that their recommendation against further privatization of alcohol sales in states with control of retail sales is "based on strong evidence that privatization results in increase per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption."

The Keystone Research Center policy brief provides an overview of the Task Force and its findings on alcohol privatization.

The Task Force periodically conducts rigorous "systematic reviews" of peer-refereed studies on a variety of issues, including "excessive alcohol consumption," and makes recommendations based on the evidence it gathers.

Twelve research papers that examined the impact of actual cases of privatization were used as the "primary evidence" by the Task Force in its evaluation. The papers evaluated the effects of 21 instances of privatization or (in one case) re-monopolization of retail alcohol distribution. They included retail alcohol privatizations in seven U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and two European countries (Finland and Sweden).

Sixteen of the 21 privatization events studied examined the effects of privatization on per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages that were not privatized as well as those that were privatized. After privatization, the Task Force found, consumption of privatized beverages increased "substantially" (the median increase was 48.2 percent). Meanwhile, consumption of non-privatized beverages increased very little (the median change was a fall of 2 percent).

The Task Force inferred based on "extensive evidence" that "when privatization results in substantial increases in alcohol consumption, there are at the same time substantial increases in excessive consumption."

While the 12 research papers examining natural experiments with privatization did not focus heavily on health effects and other alcohol-related harms, the Task Force found 16 other high-quality studies that examined the impact of private retail distribution on health and other social problems across different jurisdictions (some with private retail distribution and some without). The preponderance of this "secondary evidence" showed an increase in health and other social problems from private alcohol distribution.

"The maintenance of government control of off-premise sale of alcoholic beverages is one of many effective strategies to prevent or reduce excessive consumption which is one of the leading causes of preventable death and disability," the report concludes.

Dr. Herzenberg notes that writings by Dr. Antony Davies published by the Commonwealth Foundation and George Mason University's Mercatus Center present a different view on alcohol privatization. That work, however, has not been published in any peer-referred scholarly journals and failed to meet the quality standards necessary for inclusion as primary or secondary evidence in the Task Force Report.

The Task Force on Community Preventive Services is an independent, nonfederal organization that is partly staffed by "The Community Guide," an organization that provides guidance on public health issues. Members of the Task Force are appointed by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) but conduct work independent of the CDC.

The Keystone Research Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that promotes a more prosperous and equitable Pennsylvania economy. For more information visit: www.keystoneresearch.org.

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