Remodeling? Make Sure Your Insurance is Up to Par

According to the BuildFax Remodeling Index (BFRI), remodeling reached a record high during the month of July. The company attributes this to the many who are choosing to stay put and invest in home improvements, as opposed to putting their home on the market.

The latest BFRI indicates that residential remodeling activity registered the 21st-straight month of year-over-year gains, demonstrating that many Americans are continuing to remodel their current homes. The data shows July 2011 as the month with the highest level of remodeling activity since the Index was introduced in 2004.

When it comes to remodeling your home, there are important insurance issues to take into consideration. For example, if you are planning on adding onto your home, evaluate the materials used. Wood-framed structures are highly flammable and will cost more to insure, whereas cement- or steel-framed structures will cost less because they are less likely to succumb to fire or adverse weather conditions.

Once your addition or remodel is completed, it’s critical to make sure your insurance is in line with your home improvements. Many homeowners neglect to calculate the increased value of their home caused by a remodel/addition and secure the necessary coverage. If you have a “guaranteed replacement value” policy, which all homeowners should, noting the new value of your home post-remodel is essential.

In all cases, the following steps  can help you save money on rates:
Install a security system. A burglar alarm that is monitored by a central station, or that is tied directly to a local police station, can help lower a homeowner’s annual premiums by 5% or more.
Install additional smoke alarms. Smoke alarms are another way to reduce your homeowners’ insurance premiums. While these are standard in most new houses, installing them in older homes can save the homeowner 10% or more on annual premiums. Make sure you add the necessary number of smoke alarms to correspond with your remodel or addition.
Raise your deductible. Like health insurance or car insurance, the higher the deductible you choose, the lower the annual premiums will be. This will mean, however, that you’ll need to foot the bill for smaller home repairs that don’t meet your deductible.
Whether you have remodeled or not, be sure to review your home insurance policy at least once a year and make note of any changes that could lower your premium, like a burglar alarm, sprinkler system or even the disassembly of a trampoline. Neighborhood changes could also affect your rates, such as the addition of a fire hydrant within 100 feet of your home.
As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I have a wealth of real estate and homeownership information that may be of help to you. Feel free to contact me any time to learn more about this important information, and be sure to forward this article on to any friends or family that may be interested as well.

Source: Top 5 In Real Estate

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3 Tips for First-Time Investors

There isn’t a worker in America who doesn’t know he or she should be saving money—especially given today’s economic conditions. Whether you’re saving for a home down payment, college tuition or a retirement nest egg, investing in the future is a wise financial decision. Understandably, the two most pressing questions usually are: “How much can I afford to save?” and “What is the best way to make my money grow?”

Financial experts agree that long-term investing is the surest way to build savings—and also that you do not need a lot of money to get started. What is critically important, however, is that you save on a consistent basis.

There are classes you can take, books you can read, and experts you can consult in order to learn the finer points of investing. To begin with, however, there are three fundamental steps you must take:

1. Determine your savings goals. You need to know what your savings goals are in order to figure out how to get there. Let’s say you want to retire at age 65 with the same standard of living you have now. You can find retirement calculators online to help you determine how much money you will need in order to reach that goal.

2. Evaluate the stock market. Guaranteed investments and savings bonds are great for reaching short-term goals. They generally return about 2% to 5% at best. But if you have some time to reach your goal, investing in the market will likely be your best approach. Averaged out over the last 25 years, despite some trying times, DOW returns have paid around 9% or 10%. Here’s the difference: Over 25 years, a $10,000 investment at a 3% rate of return will grow to $26,000. A 9% return will give you $86,000.

3. Understand that time is money and plan accordingly. To be successful at saving money, it must be approached as a long-term plan—get-rich-quick schemes rarely, if ever, work. Therefore, the earlier you start to save, the more money you will have down the road. In these scenarios, assume a 10% rate of return compounded annually:
Begin investing $100 per month at age 30 until you reach age 65. At that point, you will have about $345,000 in investments. You will have put in $42,000 over the 35 year span. The other $303,000 is from the growth of your money over time.
Begin the same $100-per-month saving plan at age 20. At age 65, you will have about $916,000. You will have invested $54,000. The other $862,000 is from the growth of your money over time.

As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I have a wealth of real estate and homeownership information that may be of help to you. Feel free to contact me any time to learn more about this important information, and be sure to forward this article on to any friends or family that may be interested as well.

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INTRODUCING THE OSTEOPOROSIS CENTER OF DELAWARE COUNTY

Springfield, Pa. – The statistics are staggering. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis and 34 million more are at risk. Knowing that prevention and treatment are key to warding off osteoporosis’ potentially devastating effects, Crozer-Keystone Health System decided to do something about it. CKHS is pleased to offer the Osteoporosis Center of Delaware County, a resource for those who are living with the disease or are looking to proactively reduce their chances of getting it. Led by Barry Jacobson, M.D., a board-certified Crozer-Keystone gynecologist, the Osteoporosis Center of Delaware County is dedicated to the detection and comprehensive treatment of osteoporosis. Services include DEXA scan interpretation and metabolic screenings, and available treatments include infusions, injectables and other medications. Jacobson has been treating patients with osteoporosis and sharing his knowledge on this topic with the national medical community since 1998. What is Osteoporosis? Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by weak, brittle bones. This, in turn, dramatically increases a person’s risk for broken bones — mainly in the hips, wrists and spine. Osteoporosis also is responsible for that “hunched-over” look that characterizes the sufferer’s posture. Jacobson says that while most cases of osteoporosis are seen in women, men are not shielded from getting it. “Osteoporosis is the most common condition experienced by women over the age of 50,” he says. “Men who are affected usually begin to see signs in their seventies.” Post-menopausal women and those who are thin are at greatest risk of developing osteoporosis. What Can You Do? Taking some simple steps early on in life can go a long way in preventing osteoporosis down the road. Osteoporosis Center of Delaware County, page 2 What you should do is get enough calcium and Vitamin D, and exercise regularly. The daily recommended amount for calcium is 1,300 mg from onset of menses to age 23; 1,000 mg from age 23 to menopause; 1,200 mg from menopause until age 65; and 1,500 mg for those over the age of 65. Regarding Vitamin D, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently released updated recommendations: at least 600 international units (IU) every day for most healthy adults under age 71, and at least 800 IU for healthy people age 71 and older. Some things you should not do are smoke, eat a poor diet, avoid exercise and drink too much alcohol. All of these activities have proven to increase the chance of developing osteoporosis and, subsequently, fractures. If you fall into the high risk category, or have a family history of the disease, talk to your doctor. Get a baseline DEXA scan (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) to help determine if you have osteoporosis (or if not, your risk). Take preventive measures to prevent a fall in your home or work environment by removing clutter and tacking down or removing rugs. If you require the help that professionals such as those in the Osteoporosis Center of Delaware County can provide, there are treatments available to manage your condition. “We can offer oral, subcutaneous injections, and intravenous infusions as excellent forms of treatment for osteoporosis,” Jacobson says. “Treatment should be tailored to each individual patient’s needs.” The Osteoporosis Center of Delaware County has two locations: the Medical Office Building, Suite 707, at Delaware County Memorial Hospital in Drexel Hill, and the Crozer Medical Plaza at Brinton Lake, Suite 15, in Glen Mills. Hours are by appointment only and most insurance plans are accepted. For an appointment, call (610) 394-4755.

Source: Crozer Keystone Health System

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What You Need to Know About the Mortgage Interest Deduction Debate

As you probably know, there are a lot of issues on the table in Washington that stand to affect homeowners as well as home-buying and -selling consumers. One such issue involves a growing debate over the future of the Mortgage Interest Deduction (MID).

Introduced along with the Income Tax in 1913, the MID allows homeowners who itemize their taxes to deduct mortgage interest attributable to their primary residence and second-home debt totaling $1 million, and interest paid on home equity debt up to $100,000. Though the MID is a popular tax deduction for millions of U.S. homeowners, it has become a controversial topic in recent years. Many feel that the MID helped contribute to the housing bubble in the mid-2000s.

Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR)—the largest professional association in the country—took part in a panel hosted by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institute, and the Reason Foundation. Held in Washington, D.C. this past July, the “Rethinking the Mortgage Interest Deduction” forum provided Yun with a platform to emphasize that any changes to the MID, now or in the future, could threaten the progress made in stabilizing the housing market, and potentially erode home prices and values.

“NAR firmly believes that the mortgage interest deduction is vital to the stability of the American housing market and economy,” said Yun during the forum. “The MID facilitates homeownership by reducing the carrying costs of owning a home, and it makes a real difference to hard-working, middle-class families.”

According to HouseLogic, having a tax deduction for mortgage interest makes owning a home more affordable because the deduction lowers the amount of tax you pay. U.S. Census data shows 37% of homeowners with mortgages spend more than 30% of their income for housing. Saving on these costs is critical for homeowners as it allows them to allot funds for savings and other expenses.

Therefore, while policy makers are considering eliminating the MID, Yun believes that such a move would lower the homeownership rate in the U.S.

“While we must ensure that the conditions that led to the artificially inflated homeownership rate of the bubble years do not resurface, we also need to create the conditions for sustainable homeownership,” he explained.

Reducing or eliminating the MID is a de facto tax increase on homeowners, who already pay 80-90% of U.S. federal income tax, said Yun, adding that that share could rise to 95% if the MID is eliminated.

Yun also asserted that it’s a misconception that only the wealthy benefit from the MID, when in reality it benefits primarily middle- and lower income families. Almost two-thirds of those who claim the MID are middle-income earners and 91% of people who claim the MID earn less than $200,000 per year.
As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I have a wealth of real estate and homeownership information that may be of help to you. Feel free to contact me any time to learn more about this important information, and be sure to forward this article on to any friends or family that may be interested as well.

Source: Top 5 in Real Estate

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7 Steps to Buying a Short Sale

Today’s real estate market is yielding great opportunities for home buyers, such as short sales. Short sales, however, can be a complicated and often frustrating process for both buyers and sellers. From home inspection company Pillar To Post (www.pillartopost.com), here are some important tips for pulling off a successful short-sale transaction:

1. Finding Short Sale Properties
Most short sales are listed by real estate agents on local websites and in MLS feeds. Because some lenders complain that identifying a property as a short sale enables buyers to lower their bids, agents will slip in terms that more subtly identify the listing as a short sale, such as:

“Subject to bank approval”
“Pre-foreclosure”
“Notice of Default”
“Preapproved by bank”
“Headed for auction”
2. Choosing a Real Estate Professional
Make sure the real estate agent you choose to work with has experience and/or certification in short sales. The buying process is often far more complex and far longer than a typical home sale, so a trained ally on your side can make your experience successful.

3. Investigate the Mortgage and Liens on the Property
Your agent must be able to: uncover how much the mortgage is worth; find out how much the current owners paid and when; find out how many liens are on the property; find out which lender is the primary lien holder; research comparable sales in the area.

4. Have a Home Inspection
Since many short sales are sold “as is,” with no contingencies allowed, having a home inspection is imperative. If extensive repairs are needed, the home may not be a bargain after all.

5. Write a Complete Offer
Remember, the lender—not the owner selling the property—decides whether your offer will be accepted, rejected or countered, so helping the lender will help support your bid. Be sure to include the following materials with any short-sale offer:

Cover letter
Signed owner/borrower short-sale purchase agreement
Seller hardship letter
Seller payroll stubs
Two years of seller tax returns
Market comparables
HUD-1 closing net sheet
Repair cost estimate
Pictures of property
6. Negotiate
If the lender rejects or counters your written offer, you’ll have to negotiate with the lender by making a higher offer. Be prepared to offer more money to close the deal, or to walk away if it doesn’t make financial sense.

7. Be Patient
In today’s market, short sales are overloading many lenders. Processing and decision-making times for some lenders can be quite long—up to a year or more. So make sure you’re prepared to hang in there.
As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I have a wealth of real estate and homeownership information that may be of help to you. Feel free to contact me any time to learn more about this important information, and be sure to forward this article on to any friends or family that may be interested as well.

Source: Top 5 in Real Estate

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Top 5 Ways to Protect Your Identity Online

 While the Internet is increasingly becoming our go-to source for instantly connecting with others, conducting business, shopping and more, there are certain safety precautions we need to consider. Whether we’re at our desktops at the office, on our mobile devices on the road, or accessing the Internet through a computer in a public space, such as a hotel business center, we must be cognizant of cyber crime and know where the risks lie. According to David Nelson, an FDIC fraud specialist, there are specific steps you can follow to minimize the risk of identity theft and other online attacks. Here are his top five suggestions: If you bank online, frequently check your deposit accounts and lines of credit to spot and report errors or fraudulent transactions, just as you should with traditional banking. Never give your Social Security number, credit or debit card numbers, personal identification numbers (PINs) or any other confidential information in response to an unsolicited email, text message or phone call, no matter who the source supposedly is. Don’t open attachments or click on links in unsolicited emails from anyone you don’t know or you otherwise aren’t sure about. And watch out for sudden pop-up windows asking for personal information or warning of a virus. Be on guard against scams hiding behind online coupon offers. Beware of any coupon site that asks for personal, financial or payment information, which can be misused by criminals. Be careful if you download banking software onto a smartphone. The latest emerging threat comes from criminals selling malicious software for mobile banking, some even falsely displaying bank logos. These applications may contain spyware, and downloading them could give a hacker access to your bank account or payment card information. Only download mobile banking applications from a safe site, such as your wireless provider, phone manufacturer or your bank. When in doubt, contact your bank before downloading any banking applications to your cell phone. As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I have a wealth of real estate and homeownership information that may be of help to you. Feel free to contact me any time to learn more about this important information, and be sure to forward this article on to any friends or family that may be interested as well.

Source: Top 5 in Real Estate

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How to Make Sure Your Remodel Fits Your Lifestyle

According to a consumer poll from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), 49% of homeowners consider outcome and design as the greatest determinant of project satisfaction. According to NARI National President Michael Hydeck, consumers want their design to cater perfectly to their lifestyles and how they intend to use the space.
As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I have seen countless times how good design involves much more than customization of the home. Design work can bring multi-functional capabilities to a room — like a kitchen that also serves as the family room — or it can enhance the flow of the space by widening walkways and adding more access to the space from various parts of the home.
If you are considering a home remodel in 2011, make sure your remodeler works with you to get to the root of your lifestyle needs. According to Hydeck, many remodelers actually put their clients through special exercises to see how the remodel can best enhance their lifestyle, such as having them complete a questionnaire or take them on a walk-through of the entire home.
Hydeck also recommends, prior to starting a remodel, that you take a few days to take note of everything you do in your home and how you access it … the paths you take, what counters or areas you place items on, where you sit most often to relax, etc. Being aware of these patterns will help make your remodel as successful as possible.
For more advice on remodeling, visit www.nariremodelers.com, or e-mail me. I can provide you with my recommendations for remodelers in your area. Be sure to forward this information on to any friends and family members who may also be considering a remodel.

Source: Top 5 in Real Estate

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Top 10 Ways to Conserve Water

As the summer peaks, things keep heating up. Whether it’s your pool, the kids’ sprinkler, or your wilting flowers, water usage notoriously skyrockets at this time of the year. Here are some great ways to conserve water – inside and out:

1. Don’t overwater your lawn. An easy test to tell if your lawn needs water is to simply walk across the grass. If you leave footprints, it’s time to water. In fact, fewer, deep-soaking waterings encourage deep root growth and stronger turf. And don’t water on windy days when evaporation is greater.

2. Water in the early morning. As much as 30% of water can be lost to evaporation by watering during midday. Put mulch around trees and in gardens to further prevent evaporation.

3. Set your lawn mower one notch higher to make your lawn more drought-tolerant.

4. Shut the water off when shaving or brushing your teeth. Use Post-it notes as friendly reminders above the sink.

 5. Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your sidewalk, driveway, or patio.

6. Forego the hose and wash your car with a bucket and sponge instead. According to EPA WaterSense, a hose left running can waste as much as six gallons per minute while a bucket and sponge uses only a few gallons to do the job. Try driving your car onto the lawn when you wash it and water your lawn at the same time!

7. Use the trash can. By using the garbage disposal less and the actual garbage more, you can save 50 to 150 gallons of water a month.

8. Run dishwashers and clothes washers only when they are full. If you have a water-saver cycle, use it.

9. Use a timer when showering. This will be particularly difficult to reinforce with teenagers but worth the effort—an extra five minutes in the shower could mean another 50 gallons down the drain! Use a moderate stream or, better yet, a low-flow shower head that has maximum force using minimal water.

10. Regularly check your toilet, faucets and pipes for leaks and have them fixed promptly. An easy test for toilet leaks: Place a drop of food coloring in the tank. If the color tints the water in the bowl without flushing, there’s a leak. Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter changes at all, you probably have a leak.

As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I have a wealth of real estate and homeownership information that may be of help to you. Feel free to contact me any time to learn more about this important information, and be sure to forward this article on to any friends or family that may be interested as well.

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How to Choose the Right Home for Your Family

You’ve probably heard more than once that today’s perfect storm of low prices, high inventory, and affordable interest rates are making this the right time for you to buy that home you’ve always wanted. As you begin to shop around, however, there are several important criteria to consider in order to make the best choice for you and your family.

Discuss the following with your real estate agent before you begin looking for a home. This will help narrow down the choices and shorten the search process:

Type of home: One-story or two, single-family, duplex or condo? How will paying homeowner dues affect your overall buying power? Will a swimming pool be a bonus or a hindrance? Making these decisions in advance will help you focus on the right types of home to look at.

New or existing: A new home is all shiny and clean, but will carry with it some hefty initial costs such as landscaping and window coverings. Many builders are offering great deals on new homes that aren’t yet in move-in condition. Weigh the potential bargain against the costs involved in completing the home on your own. While these factors don’t come into play with existing homes, you need to assess its general condition, which will also impact your budget.

Features: Weigh the costs of gas vs. electric heating and cooling, the possible need for fencing, etc. How important is a fireplace? Does the home have enough bedrooms and bathrooms to support your family in the coming years?

Ease of maintenance: What is the condition of the roof? The appliances? Will you have to paint the interior or exterior and/or replace the carpeting? Be sure to factor in such costs in your budget and your negotiations.

Location: For many of today’s home buyers, it’s all about lifestyle. Do you want to be in the city or in the country? Nearer to libraries, parks and entertainment or set among tall trees and lakes? What about the need for public transportation? Nearby hospitals and schools?

Crime rate and public schools: Check with local enforcement and local residents to get a feeling for statistics and quality. Your real estate agent should be able to run detailed crime and school reports for your perusal.

Economic stability: Whether an area is growing or not can affect its future property value – as will the economic stability of the area.

Property tax: Examine the annual amount of real estate taxes and other assessments levied in the neighborhoods you are considering.
As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I have a wealth of real estate and homeownership information that may be of help to you. Feel free to contact me any time to learn more about this important information, and be sure to forward this article on to any friends or family that may be interested as well.

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Smart Lighting Choices for Inside and Out

No matter how great a room looks during the day, the right lighting makes all the difference at night. Effective lighting can even bring the not-so-favorite areas of your home to life, whether it’s indoors or out. The right type of lighting can make a difference not only in mood and atmosphere, but in efficiency and cost as well. The U.S. Department of Energy offers the following guide to lighting options. Consider these options before remodeling an interior room or updating an outdoor area:

• Incandescent bulbs – The most common type of home lighting, incandescent bulbs light instantly, provide good light and color rendition, and may be dimmed as desired. Although they are the least expensive to buy, their short life and low efficacy compared to other lights may make them more expensive in the long run.

 • Fluorescents – These bulbs use 25% to 35% of the energy used by incandescents and last about ten times longer. Improvements in technology have eliminated the flicker and noise associated with old fluorescents, delivering color temperature and color rendition comparable to incandescents. This lighting is great for kitchens and workrooms.

• Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) – These curly looking bulbs produce the same light as incandescents at just 20% of the power. They are a great choice for your lamps in most living areas.

• Halogen lights – Burning brighter and hotter than incandescent bulbs, halogen lights produce brilliant white light and have a longer service life. But they are more expensive and their hotter temperature could be hazardous in certain areas.

• High intensity discharge lights – These provide the highest efficacy and longest service life of any lighting type, and can save 75% to 90% of lighting energy when they replace incandescent bulbs. Because they take a few minutes to produce light when first turned on, they are best for areas where they stay on for hours at a time.

 • Outdoor solar lighting – These lights are easy to install, are virtually maintenance free, and provide totally free electricity. Using solar cells, they convert sunlight into electricity, which is stored for use at night.

As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I have a wealth of real estate and homeownership information that may be of help to you. Feel free to contact me any time to learn more about this important information, and be sure to forward this article on to any friends or family that may be interested as well.

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