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 3, 2011 5:27 pm

Agent. Person authorized to act by and on behalf of another.

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Question of the Day

June 3, 2011 5:27 pm

Q: What about title insurance?

A:
Title insurance protects the lender against unclear title to the property you are buying. It is almost always a requirement for closing on a home. If you desire coverage as well, buy an owner’s policy, which will protect you against any title-search errors and losses that arise from disputes over property ownership. The cost of title insurance is usually a set value per thousand of dollars of the total loan amount.

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Natural Disasters Underscore Need for HOA Disaster Plan

June 3, 2011 5:27 pm

These days, when tornado sirens blare, condo owners in Judy Rosen's 70-unit St. Louis high-rise go straight to the building's underground, windowless garage and huddle in the center.

They won't soon forget the late April "Good Friday" tornado that carved a 22-mile track of destruction through their city, damaging 200 homes and leaving thousands of people without power. Although the community wasn't damaged, residents were assured by the Crescent Condominiums' disaster preparedness plan.

"I would be just panicked if something happened to the people who live in my community," says Judy Rosen CMCA, AMS, PCAM, community manager with more than 30 years experience. "But because I took the time to sit down and write an emergency preparedness plan, I know I had done my job. That prepares me, and that prepares my community, for whatever can happen."

With more than 60 million Americans living in homes governed by community associations, emergency planning has become an essential skill of HOA managers, according to the National Board of Certification for Community Association Managers (NBC-CAM). NBC-CAM is an independent board that develops certification (known as the CMCA—Certified Manager of Community Associations®) and standards for community association managers.

"Community managers play a key role in any emergency response effort," says Dawn Bauman, executive director of NBC-CAM. "HOA managers must understand what types of disasters are likely to occur in their community, develop emergency response protocols, practice them and then communicate them. For that reason, HOA and condo boards must choose CMCAs to manage their communities."

Disasters range from summer wildfires to hurricanes, tornados to blizzards. Their impact on communities varies, depending on their size and location, the age of the housing stock and a community's degree of preparedness.

According to the American Red Cross, writing a disaster preparedness plan has six steps:
1. Committing to preparedness for the community or property. This means getting the HOA board and other top leadership committed to disaster planning.
2. Conducting a hazard vulnerability assessment. George Sullivan, an expert in disaster preparedness for the American Red Cross says, "A lot of people write an emergency response plan based on something that happened to someone else."
3. Developing an emergency response plan. "If you already have one, now is the time to revisit it and ask all the big 'what ifs,' such as 'what if we're no longer able to operate in this location?'" Sullivan says.
4. Testing your plan. An untested plan is not a real plan—so go ahead and plan those drills.
5. Communicating about preparedness. Managers must make preparedness top of mind in their communities, through newsletters and bill inserts.
6. Helping others. By definition, a commitment to disaster preparedness is a commitment to helping others—so some communities consider adopting a local school or church or hosting a blood drive.

"CMCAs learn these are things they have to be aware of," says Rosen, who teaches classes on emergency preparedness. "They know they are responsible for the people in their community, and they have to have a written plan."

When looking for a CMCA-accredited community manager, visit NBC-CAM's online directory of certified community association managers to find professionals with the latest knowledge and practical skills.

NBC-CAM is a 16-year-old independent board that develops certification and standards for community association managers. We administer the CMCA examination, a rigorous, three-hour test that measures managers' knowledge of community management best practices. Passing the CMCA examination and maintaining the standards of the CMCA certification is proof that a manager is a knowledgeable, ethical and professional. CMCA-certified managers have the skills to safeguard the assets of homeowners' associations, giving homeowners peace of mind and protecting home values. For more information, go to www.nbccam.org.

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New Food Plate Icon Recognizes Important Role of Grains in a Healthy Diet

June 3, 2011 5:27 pm

The new United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food plate icon, released recently, illustrates in a simple but powerful way how consumers can eat a healthy diet, every day and at every meal. The MyPlate icon, which replaces the MyPyramid image used since 1992, depicts proportional wedges of grains, fruits, vegetables and protein on a plate. Grains comprise a large portion, signaling that USDA recognizes the importance of grains such as enriched white rice and whole grain brown rice in the diet.

The MyPlate icon is meant to serve as a daily reminder about what foods should comprise each meal, and to translate the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), released in January, into easy-to-understand consumer recommendations. Grains, fruits and vegetables covering about three-fourths of the plate, illustrate the recommendation that 45-65 percent of calories come from carbohydrates, which should be natural, wholesome foods that contain no added sugars or saturated fat.

According to Dr. Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, CDN, a leading national nutrition expert and associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, the plate will help consumers make better choices. "As a nutritionist I applaud the emphasis on vegetables and fruits. But, as a clinical practitioner who works with families, I know how difficult it can be for people to choose healthy foods. Here's where rice can be a great friend. People are already used to eating rice with other foods, and rice is a perfect vehicle to deliver fruits and vegetables in a variety of flavor options."

"The USA Rice Federation believes that consumers will benefit from this new nutrition communication initiative, and we look forward to working with USDA to educate the public and nutrition professionals about it over the coming months and years," says Betsy Ward, president and CEO of the USA Rice Federation. "The portion of the plate representing nutritious grains signifies the importance of rice in a healthy, balanced diet. Consumers can feel good about choosing whole grain brown rice and enriched, fortified white rice each day," she concludes.

"It's important to note that enriched, fortified grains are the largest source of folic acid in the U.S. diet, providing more than 15 percent of the total folic acid intake," states Dr. Ayoob. "In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently named folic acid fortification of grain as one of the 'ten great public health achievements of the past decade in the US' for its role in decreasing neural tube birth defects in the U.S. by 36 percent since 1998. Enriched white rice is a good source of folate, providing 23 percent of the 400 mcgs women need every day," he explains.

Fast Facts about Rice:
• The average American should eat six servings of grain foods daily, at least half of those whole grains and the rest enriched grains, according to the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
• Published research shows that rice eaters have healthier diets and reduced risk of obesity, heart disease and certain cancers.
• Rice is affordable. A serving of rice costs just 10 cents, making it a nutritional bargain.
• Rice is low calorie, sodium-free, and does not contain added sugars, trans or saturated fats.

The USA Rice Federation is the global advocate for the U.S. rice industry, conducting programs to inform consumers about domestically-grown rice. U.S. farmers produce an abundance of short, medium and long grain rice, as well as organic and specialty rices including jasmine, basmati, Arborio, red aromatic and black japonica, among others. Farmers in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas grow some 20 billion pounds of rice each year according to the highest quality standards. Eighty five percent of the rice Americans consume is grown in the USA.

For more information about the benefits of rice and recipes, visit www.usarice.com.

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Half of Americans Have Cut Back on Products and Services because of High Gas Prices

June 3, 2011 5:27 pm

With Memorial Day come various events that signify the start of summer. These range from the first cook-out to opening the swimming pool to planning summer vacations. It also means the beginning of the summer driving season and higher gas prices are having an impact. Half of Americans who own a vehicle (51 percent) say they have cut back on products and/or services in order to pay the increased price of gasoline. As might be expected, those with lower household income are more impacted. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of those with a household income of less than $35,000 a year have cut back on products or services because of higher gas prices compared to 38% of those who have household income of $100,000 or more.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,184 adults surveyed online between May 9 and 16, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

There are many things people are cutting back on because of high gas prices. Almost three in ten of those cutting back (28 percent) have cut back on dining out while one-quarter have cut back on groceries (24 percent). One in five say they have cut back on entertainment (18 percent), while others have reduced driving or are staying home more (11 percent) and cut back on clothing purchases (10 percent). Some other things people have cut back on include personal grooming such as hair cuts or manicures (6 percent), auto repairs and upkeep (5 percent) and movies (5percent) while 5 percent say they have cut back on everything to pay for the increased price of gasoline.

Who can stop rising gas prices?
In looking at who to blame for the rising cost of gasoline, three things seem to stand out as having the most influence on price. Just under one-quarter of Americans (24 percent) say U.S. oil and natural gas industry profits have had the greatest influence on rising gasoline prices while 22 percent believe it is the world crude oil prices and 21 percent believe it's due to instability in oil producing areas.

So, who can best stop rising gas prices? One-third of Americans (34 percent) say the oil and gas industry while three in ten (28 percent) believe the federal government can best stop rising gasoline prices. One in five (19 percent) believe consumers can stop rising gas prices while 4 percent say state and local governments, 3 percent say the automotive industry and 12 percent are not sure.

Looking specifically at the automotive industry, half of U.S. adults (53 percent) say American automotive companies are not moving as quickly as they should to build cars that consume less gasoline, while 22 percent believe that are and 23 percent say they are not at all sure. This is a large change from 2006 when three-quarters of U.S. adults (74 percent) said American car companies weren't moving fast enough and only 9 percent thought they were.

So What?
In May of 1979, one-third of Americans (35 percent) felt the U.S. auto companies were moving as quickly as they could to build cars that consume less gasoline while 60 percent felt they were not. Fast forward 31 years, and the situation hasn't improved much as Americans still don't feel car companies are moving fast enough. But, with three in five adults (62 percent) expecting that gas prices on Labor Day will be higher than they are now, it just may be that nothing is fast enough to help ease the pain at the pump.

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

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Postal Service's Carbon Footprint Shrinks

June 3, 2011 5:27 pm

As suggested by its Reduce our Environmental Footprint Go Green Forever stamp, the U.S. Postal Service became a lot greener last year. Known globally for sustainability innovations and leadership, the agency reported an 8 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from a fiscal year (FY) 2008 baseline. The reduction of 1,067,834 metric tons of CO2 is an amount equal to the annual emissions of approximately 204,000 passenger vehicles. 

"These results demonstrate the Postal Service's commitment to reduce our GHG emissions 20 percent by fiscal year 2020," says Emil Dzuray, acting USPS chief sustainability officer. "Our leaner, faster, smarter energy reduction and conservation efforts have placed us more than one third of the way to our goal."
Reduced facility energy use represented almost half of the Postal Service's GHG emissions decrease.

"Postal Service employees are laser-focused on reducing energy use at Post Offices and mail processing centers," says Tom Samra, vice president, Facilities. "We are proud to have reduced our facility energy-related emissions 12 percent from FY 2008 to FY 2010—enough to power approximately 39,000 average American households for a year."

From FY 2003 to FY 2010, USPS reduced its facility energy use by 29.4 percent, or 9.9 trillion BTUs, an amount equal to the energy used by approximately 100,000 average American households in a year.

The Postal Service voluntarily reported its FY 2010 GHG emissions reduction progress according to Federal Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Reporting Guidance. USPS reported a reduction of 9.5 percent in facility energy and fuel use, and 7 percent in contracted transport, wastewater and solid waste. While this is the Postal Service's first fiscal year federal GHG emissions report, it is the agency's fourth year of publicly reporting its GHG emissions.

Other factors supporting USPS' positive GHG results are:
• More than 400 cross-functional Lean Green Teams across the country, which produce significant results in energy reduction and resource conservation.
• More than 44,000 alternative fuel-capable vehicles.
• Green mail delivery, including nearly 10,000 "fleet of feet" walking routes, nearly 70 bicycle routes and close to 80,000 "park and loop" routes, where carriers deliver mail on foot after driving to neighborhoods.
• More than 27 billion Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM stamps and shipping supplies provided to customers in FY 2010, which meet established standards for human and environmental health and recyclability. USPS is the only mailing and shipping company in the world to have earned this certification.

These energy-conservation actions are part of a comprehensive strategy USPS is using to meet its goals to reduce energy use in its facilities 30 percent by 2015 and GHG emissions 20 percent by 2020.

USPS also helps customers reduce their own carbon footprints. Visit usps.com/green and the green newsroom for more information.

USPS has won more than 75 environmental awards, including 40 White House Closing the Circle, 10 Environmental Protection Agency WasteWise Partner of the Year, Climate Action Champion, and Direct Marketing Association Green Echo awards, as well as the Postal Technology International Environmental Achievement of the Year.

The Go Green Forever stamps can be ordered online at usps.com/green.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

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Word of the Day

June 3, 2011 5:27 pm

Adjustable rate mortgage (ARM). Mortgage loan on which the interest rate falls and rises with changes in prevailing rates. The mortgage rate is tied to a selected index and may be adjusted annually. Also called a variable rate mortgage.

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Question of the Day

June 3, 2011 5:27 pm

Q: Is private mortgage insurance necessary?
A:
Lenders require private mortgage insurance (PMI) on most conventional loans with less than a 20 percent down payment. They believe there is a correlation between borrower equity and default. They have found that the less money borrowers put down, the more likely they are to default on a loan. PMI guarantees the lender will not lose money if this happens and a foreclosure is necessary.

The buyer pays this insurance, usually a small fee at the outset and a percentage of the face amount of the loan that is added to the monthly payment.

What most homeowners do not realize is that the insurance is usually no longer necessary after enough equity has built up in the property. Contact your lender if you meet this requirement and want to drop PMI.

A precaution: do not confuse PMI with mortgage life insurance. The latter pays all, or a portion, of your mortgage in the event of your death.

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NeighborWorks America Kicks Off National Homeownership Month

June 2, 2011 5:27 pm

NeighborWorks®America kicked off National Homeownership Month by announcing a series of activities that will highlight the important role that informed, prepared and engaged residents play in healthy communities through long-term, affordable homeownership.

"For more than 30 years, NeighborWorks America and its network of affiliates around the country have supported and encouraged affordable and long-term homeownership," says Eileen Fitzgerald, Acting CEO of NeighborWorks America. "From providing homeownership tips and urging homeowners facing foreclosure to talk to the right people, to strengthening communities through NeighborWorks Week and NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Centers, throughout National Homeownership Month we are working to get good information in the hands of potential homebuyers and current homeowners so they can achieve and sustain homeownership."

NeighborWorks America activities during Homeownership Month include:
• NeighborWorks Week(June 4-11, 2011): Every year during NeighborWorks Week—the first week in June—NeighborWorks America and the NeighborWorks network mobilize tens of thousands of volunteers, business leaders, neighbors, friends and local and national elected and civic leaders for a week of neighborhood change and awareness. Homes are rehabbed and repaired, properties are painted and landscaped, neighborhood tours are conducted, partnerships are recognized, and education events are held. During this week NeighborWorks America will highlight NeighborWorks Week events happening across the country on www.nw.org, the NeighborWorks News blog, NeighborWorks' Facebook fan page and our YouTube channel.
• HomeOwnership Centers(June 13-17, 2011): NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Centers are one-stop shops for all things related to homeownership. From professional homebuyer advice and education on affordable mortgage loans, to home repair and rehab guidance and foreclosure intervention counseling, NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Centers pave the road to long-term affordable homeownership for thousands of homebuyers and homeowners each year. During this week, NeighborWorks America will highlight the services NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Centers offer and help you locate one in your community. This information will be available on www.nw.org, the NeighborWorks News blog, NeighborWorks' Facebook fan page and our YouTube channel.
• Homebuyer Education(June 20-24, 2011): Everyday homeownership advisors work with potential homebuyers to prepare them for long-term, affordable homeownership. During this week NeighborWorks America will offer consumer tips on how to prepare for homeownership, seven steps to obtain a mortgage, and more on www.nw.org, the NeighborWorks News blog, NeighborWorks' Facebook fan page and our YouTube channel.
• Loan Scam Alert Campaign (June 27-30, 2011): Every day homeowners facing financial difficulty fall victim to vicious scam artists. During the last week in June, NeighborWorks will remind homeowners of the signs of a loan modification scam, how to report scams and point homeowners facing foreclosure to the right people—nonprofit, HUD approved counseling agencies who offer foreclosure intervention counseling. This information will be available on www.nw.org, the NeighborWorks News blog, the Loan Scam Alert Campaign's Facebook fan page and our YouTube channel.

For more information about Homeownership Month, visit www.nw.org/homeownership.

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Employee Wellness Programs Help Lower Healthcare Costs, Incentives and Social Networks Key Motivators

June 2, 2011 5:27 pm

Healthcare costs are rising, but employers are proactively working to curb costs and create healthier workforces—and employees are getting onboard, according to a survey released today by Virgin HealthMiles.
While 76 percent of American businesses report healthcare cost increases of as much as 10 percent year-over-year, nearly 90 percent are now relying on employee health and wellness programs to lower costs. Seventy percent of employers now offer incentives to employees to participate in wellness initiatives. The approach is working: nearly 88 percent of employees said incentives were an extremely or somewhat important contributor to long-term participation in wellness programs. 

Additionally, social networks are creating organizational cultures of good health. Forty-four percent of employers say leveraging an individual's social connections with its workplace wellness programs has increased employee engagement. Almost 60 percent of employees said community and social elements of wellness programs were either "extremely" or "very" important in staying committed to good health.
The survey was released to mark June's National Employee Wellness Month. In its third year, the initiative was created by Virgin HealthMiles with support from the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation. More than 90 companies across the U.S. and over 40,000 of their employees are participating. 

"Employers and employees recognize they play a role in bending the healthcare cost curve—and it must start with prevention," says Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin HealthMiles. "More companies are implementing prevention-based wellness initiatives and using tools such as incentives and social connections to drive long-term participation and healthy behavior change. The value of these strategies is powerful, and our survey results show they create healthier workforces." 

Key Survey Findings:
• Implementing Wellness and Education Programs Helping to Offset Rising Costs: More than 42 percent of employers said improved employee health from wellness investments would lower costs. Other strategies include education to make employees better healthcare consumers and increasing emphasis on work/life balance.
• Incentives Aren't One-Size-Fits-All: More than 38 percent of employers reported offering incentives in the $100-500 range and 22 percent in the $501-1,000-plus range.
• Measuring Program Impact Poses Challenges: More than 65 percent of employers said they measured the impact of wellness initiatives, but the approach is largely not validated and cumbersome. More than 61 percent rely solely on manual approaches, anecdotal data or periodic employee surveys to measure program impact. Correspondingly, more than 35 percent of employers said it is difficult to accurately track overall employee health improvements and impacts on healthcare costs. Only 23 percent leveraged technology to gain validated reporting to measure program impact.
• Employees Want Employers to Help Create Healthier Workplaces: Nearly 88 percent of employees said an employer has a responsibility to take a leadership role in encouraging and promoting workplace health.
• Employees Reap the Benefits of Improved Health: Employees who participate in wellness initiatives report improved activity levels, feel healthier and happier, and pay less in healthcare premiums. 

Visit www.nationalemployeewellnessmonth.com for an executive summary and more information on National Employee Wellness Month.

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