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

5 Reality TV Shows That Teach Consumers How to Obtain Debt Relief

April 6, 2011 9:43 am

RISMEDIA, April 6, 2011-For a decade or more, some of the most popular shows on television have been reality programming. These shows have a voyeuristic element, but they can often offer lessons on how to achieve goals and get a handle on difficult areas of life, according to Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Freedom Debt Relief (FDR).

Here are five lessons anyone can learn from reality TV-and Gallegos' suggestions for using them to get debt relief:

1. Focus on one deadline at a time. Every episode of "Project Runway" has the designers focus on a specific challenge. The lesson: Setting goals and then focusing on them, gets things done. Consumers can have success getting out of debt using a similar strategy: Pay the minimum payment on all credit cards. Apply any additional cash each month to the balance on the smallest credit card balance. "Before you know it, you will eliminate that balance. Then use the same strategy to continue paying off other credit cards, one by one," said Gallegos. "But stay focused: Do not keep charging while you are paying off debt."

2. Fast forward. Contestants on "The Amazing Race" sometimes receive the opportunity to "fast forward," which allows them to skip a number of challenges and move to a new task in the race. "Think of this opportunity the next time you receive unexpected cash, whether it is a work bonus, a prize winning, a gift or even reimbursement for something you've already paid," Gallegos suggested. Using the windfall wisely might knock out a bill or jump-start savings, taking financial goals fast-forward.

3. Find inner inspiration. Again and again, contestants on "Dancing With the Stars" reveal that their hard work on the program has surprised them as they become braver, stronger or just better dancers than they expected. By going through the learning process, step by step (literally), they reach their goals. "Paying off debt is a process," Gallegos said. Consumers can ask themselves why they want to get out of debt. Inspiration can come from visualizing the sense of peace when creditors no longer call, or the pride of helping pay for a child's college education.

4. Exceed expectations. Many a dieter has taken inspiration from "The Biggest Loser" contestants who sweat their way through difficult tasks while carrying excess baggage. When paying off debt gets hard, remember that if the Biggest Losers can stick to their eating and exercise plans, anyone can stick to a budget. After challenges like a late fee or an unexpected expense, get back on track with following a debt-paying budget.

5. Shout out for help. On "Cash Cab," contestants have the opportunity to get help from outside the cab when they can't answer a question. Individuals can do the same thing if they run into financial trouble. "Decide what kind of help you need, and then find the right assistance. A financial planner, tax advisor or credible debt relief partner can provide answers and assistance," Gallegos said.

"The successful contestants on these shows have certain things in common. They are focused and unconcerned with what others think while they pursue their goals. They find meaning in their tasks and try their best, and if they make mistakes, they get up and try again," Gallegos said. "In the end, even if they don't win, they have gained invaluable perspective on what matters to them. Apply these same values to your process of getting out of debt, and you can come out a winner, too."

For more information, visit www.freedomdebtrelief.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Simple Tips to Prevent Pest Infestations This Spring

April 6, 2011 9:43 am

RISMEDIA, April 6, 2011-The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) celebrates April as National Pest Management Month, an observance that has been taking place for more than 30 years. National Pest Management Month honors the professional pest control industry for playing a key role in protecting both health and property from significant pest-borne threats.

"The NPMA is pleased to have the opportunity to publicly recognize the important work that pest professionals do every day during National Pest Management Month," says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the NPMA. "In honor of National Pest Management Month, the NPMA is dedicated to raising public awareness about the risks posed by household pests and encouraging homeowners to take proactive steps to prevent pest infestations in their homes and properties."

Pest such as termites, rodents and carpenter ants can cause extensive property damage by chewing through walls, flooring and even electrical wiring. Other pests, including ticks, mosquitoes, cockroaches and stinging insects pose health threats to humans. Ticks can spread Lyme disease, while mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus. Cockroach allergens can trigger asthma attacks, while stinging insects send more than half a million people to the emergency room every year.

The NPMA recommends that homeowners follow these tips to prevent pest infestations:

-Seal up cracks and small openings along the foundation of the house.

-Eliminate sources of moisture or standing water.

-Keep tree branches and other plants cut back from the house.

-Keep kitchens clean by wiping counters and emptying the garbage frequently.

-Keep all food containers sealed.

-Avoid leaving pets' food dishes out for long periods of time.

-Keep trash containers clean and sealed, both indoors and outdoors.

-Screen windows and doors.

If you see signs of pests or suspect an infestation, contact a licensed pest professional.

For more information, visit www.Pestworld.org.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Window Safety Tips to Practice Year-Round

April 6, 2011 9:43 am

RISMEDIA, April 6, 2011-Whether gearing up for spring cleaning, new landscaping projects or home improvement tasks, Pella Corporation encourages families to add "window safety review" to their springtime to-do lists. Simple actions now can help protect the safety of loved ones all year.

April 3-9 is National Window Safety Week-an annual reminder to parents and caregivers about how to help prevent accidental window falls or injuries and how to use windows for potential emergency escapes. Pella Corporation teamed up with the National Safety Council (NSC) to promote year-round window safety tips.

"As you open windows to let in fresh breezes, it's also a good time to keep window safety in mind," said Kathy Krafka Harkema, Pella spokesperson and a NSC Window Safety Task Force member. "For safety's sake, adults need to supervise children at play, and teach them to keep their play away from windows and doors."

About 4,700 children in the U.S. are injured by falls from windows each year, according to window safety organization The Timothy Healy Foundation (www.windowsafe.org/). In many cases, the fall occurred within the child's own home. More than 70% of window falls are from the second or third story; however, even falling from a first-floor window can cause injury, according to the foundation.

"Remember that insect screens are not designed to keep children or adults from falling," Krafka Harkema said. For greater safety, don't lean on screens. "Insect screens simply help keep bugs out; they don't protect your family members from accidental falls."

Window safety tips to practice year-round:

-Keep furniture like beds or dressers away from windows. Furniture placed directly under a window can create an enticement for a child to climb and the potential to fall.

-Keep children's play away from windows, doors and balconies to help prevent an accidental fall or injury.

-Remember, insect screens are designed to provide ventilation and to keep insects out, not to prevent falls. For added safety in children's bedrooms, consider installing window guards or window fall prevention devices that meet American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards.

-Window treatments with traditional cords can contribute to childhood injuries. For added protection, choose blinds and shades with no room-side cords.

-Plant soft shrubs like boxwoods under exterior windows that might be used as an emergency escape route to help soften a fall.

-While spring cleaning, do a "clutter sweep" and remove tripping hazards near window, doors or balconies.

-Do not allow children to jump on beds, especially ones near windows.

"Whether you're in an existing home or moving to a new one, take a few minutes now to review window safety tips," Krafka Harkema said. "Simple changes now could help protect your loved ones and decrease the risk of accidental falls."

For more information, visit www.pella.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Tips to Plant a Rain Garden

April 5, 2011 9:43 am

RISMEDIA, April 5, 2011-Storm water runoff can be a big problem during heavy thunderstorms. As the water rushes across roofs and driveways, it picks up oil and other pollutants. Municipal storm water treatment plants often can't handle the deluge of water, and in many locations the untreated water ends up in natural waterways. The EPA estimates as much as 70% of the pollution in our streams, rivers and lakes is carried there by storm water.

To reduce the excess water runoff, many towns are encouraging businesses and homeowners to install rain gardens in their yards. Rain gardens are specially constructed gardens located in low areas of a yard where storm water can collect. The idea is to have the water naturally funnel to this garden. The rain garden collects water runoff and stores and filters it until it can be slowly absorbed by the soil.

Sizing up a rain garden

The rain garden's size and location depends on the yard. If you're the type of person who likes precise measurements, there are guidelines you can follow for estimating the ideal size of a rain garden for your particular situation. For example, you'd want to measure the area of your roof that will be draining into the gutter leading to the rain garden, as well as the size of any paved areas that will be contributing to runoff into the garden. If your soil is sandy (which drains quickly), you'd want your rain garden to be about 20-30% of the area that will be draining into it (roof plus driveway, etc.) If you have clay soil, your ideal rain garden would be 60% of the drainage area. But don't let these numbers intimidate you-any size rain garden is better than none at all.

The ideal place for a rain garden is in a natural depression. You can also funnel water from downspouts or gutters into the garden. The soil should be well drained so the water doesn't sit in the garden for more than two days. A special rain garden soil mix of 50-60% sand, 20-30% topsoil, and 20-30% compost is recommended. You can dig this mixture into the soil to a depth of 2 feet before planting.

Choosing plants

The most difficult part of building a rain garden can be plant selection. The plants in a rain garden need to be tolerant of sitting in water now and then, so native plants and wildflowers are good choices because they're so adaptable. You probably already grow many of them-ferns, ornamental grasses, sedges, iris, milkweed, asters and black-eyed Susans, to name a few. The idea is to create a naturalistic planting that's easy to maintain (no fertilizer needed) and welcoming to butterflies, bees and other creatures.

For more information, visit www.garden.org.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Spring Proves Ideal Time to Take Care of Home Related Projects

April 5, 2011 9:43 am

RISMEDIA, April 5, 2011-Your interests might be in gardening or redecorating, or maybe you're getting ready to sell your home. Either way, spring is the time for those home related projects. Many spring projects are more than just rejuvenating to the spirit. Some can also save money, make money, and/or improve your health.

Growing vegetables is a simple and rewarding pursuit, and nothing tastes as good as home grown. Gardens are also very scalable-a garden can be as small as a few pots on a condo balcony, and a large backyard garden might provide enough produce to get a family through next winter. Timing is the most critical factor. Each vegetable has its own timetable and characteristics. Some can be started from seeds indoors, and they must be planted early enough to be put in the garden when the weather is warm enough. Because southern climates are warmer, the date you plant the seeds and put the seedlings out will vary depending on where you live. Seed packets will contain that information, so read the backs before you buy any. If it is too late to start a particular seed indoors, you can still buy young plants and plant them directly in the garden.

Warm-season plants (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and several others), can be started indoors from seed in March or April, depending on where you live. There are also "cool-season" crops-lettuce, radishes and peas-which should go in earlier and yield their produce earlier. All benefit from warm and sunny window locations, as well as plant lights.

If you are planting outside you'll want to till the ground for best results, and work in needed nutrients, lime. etc., when you do. This is also a good time to remove weeds. Soil test kits will help you identify what's needed. Renting a power tiller may be needed for a large area, but you can use a shovel or a three-prong cultivator in a small garden.

Herbs are great garden additions because they have far better taste when fresh. Most require relatively little space to grow if that is an issue. Some, like oregano, thyme and sage, will come back year after year, and others, like chives, will self seed if you let them.

Some people prefer flowers instead of vegetables, or a combination of the two. Some of the same factors mentioned above apply to flowers. Some flowers, like marigolds, discourage deer and are a smart addition to a vegetable garden if deer are a pest in your area. Other flowers attract welcome guests, like hummingbirds. Flowers that are particularly attractive to butterflies might best be kept apart from gardens, since some butterfly caterpillars are also fond of vegetables.

Spring is also a great time to clean up and clear out your home. These days many people just sell their stuff on eBay, Craigslist or Amazon because it is more convenient and they usually make more money than selling it at a yard sale. It can also make space and defray some of the costs of some fairly inexpensive redecorating. A new rug, chair, and/or painting can change the whole mood of a room.

Clearing out space is also a good idea if you are thinking about selling your home this spring. In that case, think twice before replacing anything you sell. One of the principles of home "staging"-the art of making your home more attractive to buyers-is to have less stuff in your rooms because it makes them look bigger. Planting flowers is another way to add curb appeal, and what prospective home buyer would not like the thought of harvesting fresh veggies from their garden this summer?

Other cost effective curb appeal projects include adding shrubbery to an under landscaped yard and repainting inside and/or out if your home needs it. A home inspection is a good idea because you can identify and take care of any minor problems before a buyer's inspection identifies them. Buyers can be turned off by a long list of needed repairs because it suggests lack of ongoing maintenance and the potential for even more problems. If the inspection uncovers more serious problems, you may want to factor them into the price and sell the home "as is."

Remodeling projects are also popular in the spring. Homeowners have gotten more conservative in terms of their scope in recent years. This is a reflection of both weaker home prices and a weaker economy. Nevertheless, remodeling is often a more sensible alternative than moving to upgrade your housing resources. Between commissions and other expenses, selling costs can easily approach 10% of a home's value. In some cases it is the only alternative because of the housing market.

By contrast, sensible remodeling costs can often add 80-90% of their costs to your homes net value. That can also move into the positive ROI range if you're willing to do some of the finish work (like painting) yourself.

As always, we recommend that homeowners get everything in writing. Contractor disputes are common and can best be avoided when areas of potential misunderstanding are eliminated. That is best done by using a comprehensive contact that covers everything.

Courtesy of the American Homeowners Foundation and the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance, www.AmericanHomeowners.org.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Word of the Day

April 5, 2011 6:43 am

Real estate salesperson. Person who has passed a state examination for that position, and must work under the supervision of a broker.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Q: Does the government offer assistance with home improvements?

April 5, 2011 6:43 am

A: Yes. Two very popular programs offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) include the Title 1 Home Improvement Loan and the Section 203(k) Program. In the first program, HUD insures the loan up to $25,000 for a single-family house to cover alterations, repairs, and site improvements.

The latter program, which also insures mortgage loans, is HUD's primary program for the rehabilitation and repair of single-family homes. Loans are also available from the Department of Veteran Affairs to buy, build, or improve a home, as well as refinance an existing loan at interest rates that are usually lower than that on conventional loans. The Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Loan program, funded by the Agriculture Department, offers low-rate loans to low-income rural residents who own and occupy a home in need of repairs. Funds are also available to improve or modernize a home or to remove health and safety hazards. The federal government isn't alone in its efforts to provide assistance. Local and state governments offer special home improvement programs. Contact your governor or mayor's office for more details.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Simple Tips for Avoiding Tax Scams

April 5, 2011 6:43 am

RISMEDIA, April 5, 2011-As the height of tax season approaches, it's important for all filers to be vigilant about avoiding tax scams. The problem, however, is that many of the sites fraudsters use look like those created and maintained by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other tax authorities. Fortunately, with the right Internet security software and a few simple tips, you can avoid the traps set by these "phishers" and keep the season's tax refund scams at bay.

To get the phishing protection you need during tax season-and throughout the year-you should install Internet security software that checks for phishing and malicious websites before you visit them. Phishing scams are often carried out via email, so it is important to have anti-spam protection as well. Use Internet security software with automatic updates to help you stay protected from the latest spyware, viruses, Trojans, keyloggers, worms and rootkits.

In addition to getting up-to-the minute protection by way of your Internet security software, maintaining safe online practices is an important part of avoiding tax scams. Just a few of the tell-tale signs that a seemingly legitimate tax site or email message is really the handiwork of phishers include:

-Messages contain dire warnings or extreme promises of a large refund. If you receive an email message or IM containing such a message, don't reply to the sender, don't email any sensitive information, and don't follow any link contained within the message

-The site promises to automatically transfer a tax refund to your bank account after you provide your banking information, credit card number and/or other personal details.

-The site's URL doesn't begin with http://www.irs.gov or another tax authority's primary URL name, and instead looks something like http://41.208.130.97/www.irs.gov/www.irs.gov/portal/info.html (or a similar iteration). When in doubt, go directly from the tax authority's site by entering its primary URL directly into your address bar.

-The email seems to be a government tax agency but is requesting that you inform them of your debit card's PIN number (or provide other sensitive information) in order to receive your refund. The IRS does not send such messages and already has the information it needs to provide you with a refund check or direct deposit.

-The email message alleges to be from the IRS (or another government agency) but has a file attached. Do not open the attachment, as these often contain harmful viruses or spyware.

For more information, visit www.webroot.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Fire Safety Practice Family Fire Escape Plans

April 5, 2011 6:43 am

RISMEDIA, April 5, 2011-Fire happens unexpectedly, and many times in the middle of the night when families are sleeping. That's why it's important to have an escape plan in place you won't have time to create a plan during a crisis. Foremost encourages you and your family to be prepared and follow these tips.

Practice Fire Drills Often

Families should practice fire drills at least twice a year so everyone is aware of what to do when a real fire occurs. Set up multiple scenarios and practice drills at different times of the day so your family learns how to get out safely from every room in your house. Once everyone is comfortable, you may want to consider a fire drill at night when everyone's asleep to see if your smoke detectors are loud enough to wake your family members.

-Make a rough sketch of your home's floor plan and label all possible exits, including windows and doors.

-Plan at least two different escape routes from each room.

-Designate a meeting place outside your home, like your mailbox or neighbor's driveway.

-Assign someone to help young and elderly people.

-Choose someone to make sure family pets are safely out of the house and practice fire drills with your pets.

-Teach children they must get outside and not to hide in closets or under beds.

-Have one person to go to a neighbor's home and call the fire department.

Prepare Your Windows for Fast Escape

There is more to safety than simply knowing where the escape points are in your home. Check to make sure every window and door is fully functional before each fire drill. Teach your family how to unlock and open all of their possible exits. If they can't get a window open during an actual fire, instruct them to break it with chair, lamp or shoe and get out. Watch out for sharp glass.

-Remove any installation clips from the outside of your windows.

-Make sure windows are not stuck or painted shut.

-Check if screens and security bars can be quickly removed.

-Have a collapsible ladder ready for escape from upper-story windows.

-Have your entire family practice unlocking and opening windows and doors

Keep Fire Extinguishers Handy

Some small fires may be contained before they get out of control. If you know how to use an extinguisher and have an escape route in place in case the fire does grow larger, carefully follow the instructions and try to put out the flames. If the fire is not out after using the extinguisher, get out and call the fire department.

-Store a multi-purpose fire extinguisher in the kitchen and on every level of your home.

-Make sure they're dry-chemical extinguishers, suitable for class A, B and C fires.

-Teach all family members how to operate them.

-Always keep extinguishers recharged and ready to use.

-Never throw water on a grease fire. Instead smother the fire with a lid, baking soda or dry-chemical extinguisher.

Test All Smoke Detectors

More than half of all fatal home fires occur while people sleep. Correctly installing smoke detectors and checking them regularly will help warn your family when a fire does occur, giving you time to safely escape.

-Install at least one smoke detector on every level of your home. For extra safety, install one inside and outside of every bedroom.

-Place them on the ceiling or 6-12 inches from the ceiling since smoke rises.

-Have a qualified technician install hard-wired alarms.

-Make sure there is a battery back-up for hard-wired alarms.

-Test all fire detectors monthly.

-Change batteries at least once a year or immediately if your detector is chirping this means the battery is getting low.

Play it Safe During a Fire

If a fire does occur, these well-known tips can help you stay safe.

-Crawl to the nearest safe exit since the clearest air is 12 to 24 inches above the floor.

-Carefully touch the bottom of all doors before opening them. If they're hot, don't open them. Find another way out.

-Remember the stop, drop and roll rule. Don't run if your clothes catch fire. Stop, drop to the ground, cover your face with your hands to protect your face and lungs, and roll until you smother the flames.

For more information, visit www.Foremost.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Word of the Day

April 4, 2011 9:43 am

Realtor. A real estate broker or agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors, a professional real estate group that subscribes to a Code of Ethics. Not every broker or agent is a Realtor, a word that is a registered trademark and always capitalized.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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