RE/MAX 440
Mary Mastroeni
mmastroeni@remax.net
Mary Mastroeni
731 W Skippack Pike
Blue Bell  PA 19422
PH: 610-277-2900
O: 215-643-3200
C: 610-213-4878
F: 267-354-6212 
Welcome Home from RE/MAX 440!

Mary's Blog

Don't Be Duped By Bogus Reviews

January 18, 2017 12:27 am

I can hardly resist the temptation to whip out my phone or rush to the keyboard when someone asks where to find everything from the best kitchen stove or garden tractor, roofer, or REALTOR® - and decisions are often weighed against those cyber-commentaries.

But Howard Schwartz at Connecticut Better Business Bureau cautions consumers to be careful about potentially fraudulent online reviews before making purchasing decisions.

So, can online reviews be trusted?

The answer depends on who writes the review according Schwartz. Unfortunately, he says technology has helped unethical businesses obtain stellar ratings while trashing competitors with excessively negative, even falsified reviews.

In other cases, consumers could be relying on paid reviewers who may have never used the merchandise they are praising. Schwartz has even seen the same review and identical wording for different products on various sellers' websites.

It may not be illegal, Schwartz says, but the very least the practice is misleading and unethical. So, he and the BBB offer these tips to spot phony product reviews:

Check for "marketing speak" - Does the review sound like something you or your friends would write, or by someone selling a product.

Too many details - If the merchandise is a "Model XG52 Widget," and the product's full name and model are repeated several times in the review, it is a sign that it was likely planted by a paid writer.

Silly, overblown claims about the product - If you are considering purchasing a vacuum cleaner and reviews that say things like "This product changed my life," does it make sense to you?

Unreasonably long reviews - Would you write a 5-paragraph review that not only tells you about a product but also describes how to use it? This is a clear red flag.

Negative reviews that are short on details - You may see only a couple of words that say things like "This product stinks," without telling you why. Be wary of these.

Check the username - If a reviewer's screen name has 3 or more numerals typically at the end of their screen name, it is usually a sign of an automated review-writing program.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Is Your Smart-Home Device a Security Threat?

January 17, 2017 12:27 am

Did you recently welcome a Google Home or Amazon Echo into your home? How about a smart TV or a fancy new Apple Watch? While all of these devices can work wonders in terms of making our lives easier, they can also pose a security threat to your privacy. Internet-connected devices provide endless possibilities, but they rely on technology and collected data to deliver on their promises.

"I don't necessarily think about someone hacking into my new smart thermostat and accessing temperature preferences,” says Steve Platt, global executive vice president of Fraud and Identity for Experian. “But if they can access my thermostat, they can get into my Wi-Fi network. From there they can access my computer or other connected devices where I have a lot more private and valuable information. The Internet of Things is only as strong as its weakest link. That's why it's so important to understand and treat each connected device as part of a broader network."

According to Platt, you can have both convenience and privacy, as long as you know how to secure your devices along the way. Here are eight tips from Experian for protecting your identity while enjoying your new gadget:
  1. Make sure the products and services you are connecting were purchased from reputable companies.
  2. Take a few minutes to review the privacy and data usage policies for each product or service. These privacy policies and data-use statements should be clear, easy to read and easy to understand. It's important to know how your personal data is used, stored or shared and to be comfortable with the terms before using the device.
  3. Look for devices that use end-to-end encryption, meaning third parties can't read or listen to your communications. More and more products are including this terminology right in the product description. If it's not there, ask.
  4. Be careful when turning on features for less secure devices. Remember that a less secure device can open a door into your network, which can lead to access to other connected devices.
  5. Change the default password before connecting the device to your network and enable two-factor authentication options, when available, for additional security. For example, you might use a username and password plus something else that only you know.
  6. Pay extra attention to your Wi-Fi network and leverage all available security options, including things like router and network passwords, encryption, firewalls and firmware.
  7. Be aware of the applications installed on devices, and download applications only from reputable providers. Also, only download apps created by trusted entities.
  8. Make sure children are supervised when using Internet-enabled devices, especially when downloading apps and connecting to other devices.

Following these tips will allow you to make your home smarter and safer.

Source: Experian

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Money-Saving Tips to Combat the Cold

January 17, 2017 12:27 am

Brrr. Winter weather not only sends us scurrying indoors; it also bumps up our monthly bills. Below are a few helpful hints for saving money all season.  

- The thermostat can be the biggest contributor of high winter bills. Select the lowest comfortable setting on your thermostat when you're home, then lower the temperature a degree or two when you leave.

- Change air filters regularly. A dirty air filter makes a heating system work harder, which uses more energy.

- Inefficient heating can also add to monthly power bills during colder temperatures. Regular service calls from a licensed technician will help to properly maintain your heating and cooling system.

- The ceiling fan is a great way to enhance your home's warmth in the winter. Simply set the fans to operate in a clockwise direction, which pushes warm air back down into the room.

- On sunny days, leave your drapes or blinds open to allow the sun's rays to warm the house. Close your drapes at night to provide additional insulation for the windows.

- Wear warm clothing for additional energy savings at home. That way, you can bump down the thermostat a degree or two and still stay warm.

Source:  Duke Energy

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Book a Better Vacation For Less

January 17, 2017 12:27 am

Looking forward to your next big trip? Read on for five ways to book a better, cheaper vacation, courtesy of Expedia.

Book your trip at the right time  

Purchasing airplane tickets 21 days or more in advance offers the best prices-especially for trips within Europe and the United States. Some trips can give discounts of as much as 30 percent for booking three weeks before the departure date.  

To get the best deals on trips within Europe, you need to book flights almost two months ahead (at least 56 days) so for short haul Easter breaks its best to start booking now. For travel to Asia and the US it's best to book flights around 6 months ahead (+ 171 days for Asia and + 180 for the US) so now is also a great time to plan your big summer break.

Book flights and hotel at the same time 

One critical, but often overlooked, method to drive savings is for travelers to simultaneously book their flight, hotel and/or rental car on an online travel agency. Flight and hotel bookings can be offered at a steep discount.

Those savings can be lost if travelers book these elements independently, which is common, so flight and hotel bookings remain the single easiest way for travelers to save hundreds on travel, both domestically and internationally.

Include a Saturday night stay 

After evaluating terabytes of data regarding the impact of including a Saturday night stay on average ticket prices, Expedia has concluded that the urban myth is true and most tickets including a Saturday stay offer the lowest prices and best deals. In Central Europe, average ticket prices for itineraries that include Saturdays can be as much as 74 percent less and 47 percent less for flights within the UK and Ireland. The impact of Saturday night stays exists independent of what day of the week a ticket was booked and how many days in advance it was purchased.

Head to an alternative neighborhood on your city break 

By checking out the alternative areas of a city you can save even more on your hotel. Expedia's local experts have provided advice - such as booking in a business district for a weekend stay - to help travelers to find money-saving alternate destinations that aren't too far from the downtowns or most popular areas of the cities in question. For example, staying in the Financial District or Battery Park City when traveling to New York can offer savings but still offers the chance to stay in two spots that are fast becoming the city's new must-visit areas.

Source: Expedia.co.uk

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mastering Mindfulness

January 14, 2017 12:27 am

The concept of mindfulness may conjure up images of incense and Tibetan monks, but it’s actually a practice that we everyday people can—and should!—easily incorporate into our daily lives.

The benefits of mindfulness—the practice of clearing your mind, breathing deeply and focusing on the present moment—are many. According to Dr. Nina Smiley who leads meditation practices at New Paltz, N.Y.’s Mohonk Mountain House, mindfulness boosts the immune system, heightens focus, and can reduce anger, insomnia, and depression. Being mindful can help you perform better at work and enrich personal relationships because it helps you live in the moment, which goes a long way toward performing better on the job and creating a more meaningful family life.

While many confuse it with meditation, which is focused on clearing all thoughts, mindfulness is about focusing our thoughts on the task at hand. So how does the average person achieve this state of mastering the present moment? Here are four easy steps to follow from the Mrs. Mindfulness blog:

Step 1. Stop and take three, deep, slow breaths, focusing the mind on the breathing and nothing else for that time. If random thoughts enter your mind, don’t throw in the towel—just acknowledge the thoughts and steer yourself back toward the breathing.

Step 2. Put aside all thoughts about the past and worries about the future. Think only about the present moment—use your senses to really become aware of the environment around you in that moment.

Step 3. Now you’re ready to go about your activity or task, slowly and deliberately, focusing only on what needs to be done right now.

Step 4. Keep your mind alert and in the moment. Try to keep your unconscious “mind chatter” at bay and stay completely absorbed in your activity. If your mind does wander, gently guide it back to what you’re doing.

Practicing mindfulness in this way will add meaning and enjoyment to simple everyday tasks, help you accomplish more, and lead to better peace of mind.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Stay Safe in a Power Outage

January 14, 2017 12:27 am

There's often no time to prep for a power outage. Whether from winter storms, electric heat during summer, or a simple issue with your power provider, power outages can hit when your least expecting it, and drag on for days. Below are several tips for staying safe in an unexpected outage.

Don't drive. If your outage happens in the winter, it's important to stay off the road. With no traffic lights and treacherous weather, driving can be extremely dangerous.

Pay attention to proper generation. If you're without electricity and want to use a portable generator, make sure you use it in a well-ventilated area. Do not connect a generator to your home's electrical panel or fuse boxes. It may cause electricity to feed back into the power lines, which can endanger linemen and damage electric service facilities.

Cook with caution. If using Sterno or charcoal to cook food, always to do so outside in a well-ventilated area. Cooking indoors with Sterno or charcoal will produce deadly carbon-monoxide fumes.

Be weary of debris. Remember, following a storm, debris can cover power lines that have fallen and even standing near lines that are down can be dangerous.

Back up your batteries. If you know a storm is coming, take time to make sure cell phones and back-up batteries are charged  so that you can stay connected.

Stock away supplies. Make sure you have a supply of flashlights, batteries, bottled water, non-perishable foods, medicines, etc. Also, ensure a portable, battery-operated radio, TV or NOAA radio is on hand.

Know your needs. Families who have special medical needs or elderly members should closely monitor weather forecasts and make plans for potential alternate arrangements should an extended outage occur.

Look for down lines. Stay away from power lines that have fallen or are sagging. Consider all lines energized as well as trees or limbs in contact with lines. Please report downed power lines to Duke Energy and your local police department. If a power line falls across a car that you're in, stay in the car. If you MUST get out of the car due to a fire or other immediate life-threatening situation, do your best to jump clear of the car and land on both feet. Be sure that no part of your body is touching the car when your feet touch the ground.

Source: North Carolina's Electric Cooperatives; Duke Energy

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Are You Brushing Your Teeth Wrong?

January 14, 2017 12:27 am

Brushing our teeth is something we hopefully all do twice a day. However, it is highly possible you've been brushing your pearly white the wrong way. The American Dental Association (ADA) offers the following tips provide easy ways to fix common brushing blunders.

Keeping your toothbrush for too long: The average life of a toothbrush is three to four months. Make a resolution to change your toothbrush with every season this year. Frayed and broken bristles are signs it's time to let go.  

Not brushing long enough: Teeth should be brushed for a full two minutes, twice per day. The average time most people spend brushing is 45 seconds. If you're racing through cleaning, try setting a timer. Or distract yourself by humming your favorite tune.

Brushing too hard: Be gentle with your teeth. You may think brushing harder will remove more leftover food and the bacteria that loves to eat it, but a gentle brushing is all that's needed. Too much pressure may wear down the hard outer shell on your teeth and damage gums.

Brushing right after eating: Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing – especially if you have had something acidic like lemons, grapefruit or soda.  

Storing your brush improperly: Keep your toothbrush upright and let it air dry in the open. Don't keep your toothbrush in a closed container, where germs have more opportunity to grow, and if your toothbrush is in a holder next to another, keep them as separate as possible.

Using a brush with hard bristles: Soft bristles are the way to go. You don't want to use medium or hard bristles because these may wear down the outer shell of your teeth and may cause sensitivity when eating or drinking cold food and beverages.

Improper brushing technique: Get your best brush with these steps:

- Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums. 
- Gently move the brush back and forth in short (tooth-wide) strokes. 
- Brush the outer surfaces, the inner surfaces, and the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
- To clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, tilt the brush vertically and make several up-and-down strokes.

Source: ADA, MouthHealthy.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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10 Ways to Make a Small Room Look Larger

January 13, 2017 1:03 pm

No matter how large your home may be, there’s always one room that’s just a little too small. Luckily, with some quick design tricks, any room can appear larger. Try a couple of these suggestions and watch your room magically expand.
  1. Use lighter paint colors.
  2. Paint or wallpaper the ceiling in order to make a room look taller.
  3. Install wall-to-wall or floor-to-ceiling bookcases to make the ceilings look higher.
  4. Pull furniture away from the walls to create a feeling of spaciousness.
  5. Hang mirrors opposite windows to reflect light and make the room seem bigger.
  6. Keep knickknacks, framed photos, books, etc., to a minimum to create a sense of spaciousness.
  7. Use furniture that doubles for something else. For example, a lidded ottoman that’s also a seat that’s also a storage unit.
  8. Keep window treatments to a minimum to expose as much of the window—and therefore, light—as possible. Think sheer, white curtains. Or better yet, nothing at all.
  9. Stay away from bold prints and colors. Stick to smaller patterns and neutrals when it comes to rugs and upholstery.
  10. Deploy stripes, either on your walls or floors, which will make the walls look taller and the floors longer.
For more tips to make small spaces appear larger than they are, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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When to Start Thinking about Retirement? Yesterday

January 13, 2017 1:03 pm

With countless financial obligations each month, it’s understandable why most people put off saving for retirement. In fact, according to smartasset.com, half of all American households have no retirement accounts at all.

Even if you’re on a tight budget, however, saving for retirement is possible. Try these five tips from Pentegra Retirement Services.

1. Start as early as possible
People who started saving for retirement in their 20s are 66 percent more likely to retire before age 60 than those who started in their 30s, according to a recent study from Money Rates.

2. Take advantage of employer retirement plans 
If you’re lucky enough to work for a company that offers a 401(k) plan, jump on it. Meet with a financial advisor to determine how much you should be contributing to your 401(k) and how you should be investing those contributions in order to reach your goals.

3. Budget wisely
Be precise in your budgeting process. Start by getting a handle on your fixed and variable expenses. Determine your debt-to-income ratio and start paying down your debt, prioritizing debt with the highest interest rate. Think about how your expenses will increase in the future and come up with a plan for covering those expenses. Determine how much you can comfortably afford to contribute toward retirement.  

4. Consider risk and mix it up
All investments come with some level of risk, so mitigate that risk by coming up with the appropriate asset mix, taking your age, situation and time left until retirement into consideration. In short, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

5. Remember, it’s a joint effort
According to a recent Harris Poll of 1,800 Americans, 36 percent said their partner is saving for retirement, but most had no idea exactly how much. Don’t just rely on your partner’s retirement—plan jointly to secure a comfortable retirement.Taking that first step can be the hardest, but once you have a game plan, your odds of retiring comfortably can only increase.

To learn more about saving for retirement, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Putting in a New Floor? Use This Checklist

January 13, 2017 1:03 pm

If a new floor is in your future, proper planning is key to a successful outcome. Use the following checklist from Consumer Reports to ensure you’re making the best choice for both functionality and fashion.

1. Slow down and sample. While you may think you know exactly what you want, take the time to test out several samples in the room you’re reflooring. When you compare them side-by-side, you may change your mind.

2. Compare for consistency. While manufacturers try to match solid- and engineered-wood flooring for color and grain, variations occur from batch to batch, so make sure you buy all the flooring you need at one time.

3. Measure right. Consumer Reports offers the following formula to ensure you buy the right amount of flooring: measure the room’s square footage by multiplying its length times its width. Flooring an odd-shaped room? Divide it into smaller rectangles, calculate the square footage of each rectangle, and then add them together. Then play it safe: buy 7 - 10 percent more than you need, and maybe an extra box for future repairs or additions.  

4. Consider traffic. High-traffic areas such as entryways, kitchens and family rooms will require durable flooring. Consider engineered wood or attractive bamboo floors for less-busy areas.

5. Prepare for install. Consumer Reports recommends unpacking wood or laminate flooring and letting it sit for 1 - 3 days. This will help its temperature and moisture become acclimated to the levels in the room.  

6. Certification matters. The FloorScore certification on vinyl floors means it emits relatively low levels of volatile organic compounds. For wood flooring, look for certification from the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which means the wood came from responsibly managed forests.

Source: Consumer Reports

For more flooring tips, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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