REMAX 440/Central Blog

The Best Back-to-School Resolutions

August 30, 2013 12:48 am

(BPT)—With kids across the country heading back to school, a common question at family dinner tables will be: "What did you learn today?"
Kids will be learning reading, writing and arithmetic as they head back to school, but what about lessons involving money? For most people, our relationship with money is based on our childhood experiences, and many children look to their parents for these important lessons. Yet, according to a recent Capital One survey of parents and teens, less than half of teens have worked with their parents to develop a budget for spending and saving their money.

As students prepare for a new school year, it's a great time to start fresh with new resolutions around spending and saving. Talk to your kids about wants vs. needs, saving, budgeting, using credit wisely and other money management habits that can last a lifetime.

Here are a few ways to get started:

Crunch numbers together and establish a budget. As your teen starts earning an income through a job or an allowance, ask him or her to pitch in and contribute toward purchases he or she might otherwise take for granted. Create a budget together totaling your teen's contributions and what you can afford to contribute, and then stick to it when you head out to the stores.

Only shop for what's needed. Sit down together to make a list of what essentials your teen already has, what is needed and how much is budgeted for this shopping trip. This comes in handy for back-to-school shopping as well as the holiday shopping season.

Do your homework. This is a good way to show your teen that homework extends beyond the classroom and well into adult life. Researching the items on the shopping list before leaving the house allows your teen to comparison shop, looking at prices and the quality of the items.

For teens on-the-go, there are also a great deal of apps available that can easily compare pricing of items. And not surprisingly, you might discover your teen has different priorities than you when it comes to deciding which items to purchase. Only 22 percent of teens surveyed considered the price of an item to be the top priority, whereas 46 percent said style and appearance were more important. Run a calculation of how much money could be saved between the lower-priced items and the items on the "want list."

Set financial goals. Remind your teen to look beyond high school and discuss what items he or she would like to own in the future. It might be an electronic product, a car, paying for a future vacation, or helping to pay for college. The survey found that 83 percent of teens plan to attend college after high school, but 51 percent of those teens were not saving money to help pay for it. Help your teen set up a plan for how they will spend and save the money they earn or receive as gifts.

Lead by example. Encourage good financial behavior by teaching your teen how to write checks, the use of credit cards and their associated fees and the importance of paying bills on time. Have them around the next time you pay your monthly bills, so they can see how much is spent on utilities, auto insurance and even food. This gives them a good picture for their future and how they might need to make financial decisions to cover essential expenses.

Introduce investing basics. Open a custodial account and help your kids pick the stocks they like most. Contribute a portion of their allowance or agree to match your teen's contributions, and watch the account grow together. Set monthly meetings to review investments, make changes and pick new stocks to purchase. Beginning the stock discussion early will empower your teen with the comfort and knowledge they'll need when they are an adult.

By taking time to discuss spending, saving, budgeting and investing, you can help your teens save money now and point them in the right direction for a successful financial future.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Hurricane Safety Tips

August 30, 2013 12:48 am

The period from mid-August to late October is considered peak hurricane season. Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted that the 2013 season will be even more active than last year. NOAA projects up to 20 named storms, including 7 to 11 major hurricanes that will be greater than a category three.

"Research suggests that there is a 70 percent probability of a major hurricane hitting the U.S. coastline this season, compared to the historical average of 52 percent," says Mark R. Desrochers, president, personal lines at The Hanover. "The good news, however, is that with the right preparation, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of personal injury or having their property damaged in a storm."

With hurricane season approaching its peak, here are several tips to help individuals keep themselves, their families, and their property safe during a storm.

Preparing Well in Advance
-Review your homeowners policy with your insurance agent to determine whether you have adequate protection. In particular, consider whether you have flood insurance and if your policy will cover current rebuilding costs.
-Secure your home: Repair loose boards, shingles, shutters, down spouts—the kind of things that could become greater problems in high winds or torrential rain.
-Consider making improvements to protect your home, especially if you live on or near the coast. These could include protecting windows and doors with storm shutters.
-Make a home inventory so that you can easily offer a list of damaged possessions to your insurer in the event that you are impacted by the storm. Be as detailed as possible, listing all personal items and including photos and videos where possible. Keep your inventory list in a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box.
-Stock emergency supplies including: a battery-powered radio, flashlights, extra batteries, medicines, first aid handbook and kit and a week's worth of non-perishable food and water. Other items to have on hand include: tools, blankets and/or sleeping bags, cooking and eating utensils, pet supplies, paper plates and cups, boards, plastic sheeting, tape and toiletries such as soap, bleach (for disinfecting), and diapers, etc.
-Develop an evacuation plan including how you will notify family and friends and where you will be staying if forced to evacuate. Share everyone's cell phone numbers and compile a list of key numbers (fire, police, etc) you might need in the case of an emergency.

During a Hurricane Watch

-Listen for advisories on the radio or TV. Follow advice from local officials on how to best protect yourself for the upcoming storm.
-Charge your cell phone and tablet battery or batteries.
-Fill the gas tank of your car(s). You'll need it if you have to evacuate. If there is a power outage, gas pumps may not be functioning. If you have a generator, ensure you have gas for that as well.
-Bring items inside your home that could become dangerous as flying objects, including all toys and lawn furniture. Make sure that sheds, cabanas and similar detached structures are securely anchored.
-Protect glass windows with boards, shutters or tape. Otherwise they could be broken from wind pressure.
-Move important papers and valuables to the second floor if you expect flooding.
-Turn your refrigerator to the coldest setting so food will last longer if the power goes out.
-Fill your clean bathtub with extra water.

During the Storm
-Get inside immediately and stay calm. Don't panic. Stay tuned to weather updates.
-Check on family members and friends.
-Evacuate motor homes and take shelter in a grounded building.
-Windows and doors should be closed at all times and boarded up with wooden or metal shutters if possible.
-Stay away from windows. Stay in the center of the room, or in an inside room.
-If flooding begins, turn off electricity.

If you have an Evacuation
-Communicate with all family members so that everyone knows where to go.
-Turn off utilities, including gas, water and electricity.
-Lock doors and windows.
-Leave a message for authorities notifying them where you will be.
-Take important documents, including your insurance policies.
-Bring emergency supplies, such as battery-powered radio, cell phones, flashlights, extra batteries, prescriptions, first aid kit and non-perishable food and water.
-When advised to leave, go as soon as possible. Follow recommended routes only and keep your radio on for current storm information.

After the Storm
-Check to be sure all family members are safe.
-Notify your insurance agent as soon as possible if you have experienced damage.
-Wear shoes around debris to avoid injuries. And when beginning the cleanup process, use protective gear such as eyewear or gloves.
-Dispose of any impaired items touched by floodwater such as food, drinks, and medicine.
-Check utilities. Turn them off if you suspect damage, and let the power company handle.
-Create a list of damaged property and if possible take photographs and/or video. Do not dispose of damaged items without prior approval from your insurance claims adjuster.
-Keep an accurate record of any temporary repairs or expenses so that they may be considered in your claim.
-If there was an evacuation, wait for official notice that it is safe to re-enter your home. When returning to your home, be cautious when entering a damaged structure. Stay away from damaged or weakened walls.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Is a Condo Right for You?

August 29, 2013 12:39 am

While there are many conveniences and advantages to condo living, there are certainly lifestyle issues a home buyer must take into account to determine if a high-rise or other type of condominium home will meet their expectations. Real estate professional Robert Jenson of Las Vegas offers insights to help buyers determine if a condominium is a prudent choice as a primary residence. According to Jenson, condo living may not be for you if:

1. You have a loud or large dog. Most condos do not have a private yard for your four-legged friend, only common areas, which means your dog will have to stay inside all day. Be sure to also review the Homeowner Association (Common Interest Community) rules and regulations with regards to pets, as there may be considerations as to the type, size, breed, etc. allowed.

2. You are a light sleeper. Once you live in a condo, it most likely means you have people living (and making noise) above, below or, at least, to the side of you. Condo living also has a much higher “density,” which means that within just 100 feet, you could have people that get up early, those that party late and everyone in between.

3. You like to work on cars. It’s a safe bet to assume that most, if not all, condo HOAs will not let you work on your car in the parking lot or elsewhere on the property. So, if working on a transmission is your idea of a good time, it’s doubtful the HOA will agree.

4. You need a lot of storage space. While there are roomy condos out there, more often than not, they don’t have a garage for extra storage, or much extra closets and cabinetry in general. So if you have a lot of stuff to be stored away, you might consider a more traditional residence where you can spread your wings.

5. You have many vehicles. It’s rare to find a lower-priced condo with a two-car garage. Usually, they’ll offer a one-car garage or carport. If you only get a carport, there could be theft issues, or heat, snow and other weather issues depending on your climate. While higher-end condos usually can accommodate two vehicles, they sometimes have restrictions as to the allowable “type,” with some having bans on motorcycles and open bed trucks. Accordingly, home buyers with more than one car should pay close attention to parking options.

6. You are on a budget and can’t handle the higher HOA fees. Condos are known for offering residents additional amenities and commonly have Homeowner dues from $100 to $500 and above per month. If you are highly budget-conscious and need to keep overhead expenses to a minimum, be sure to take the HOA dues and any additional special assessments into account.

7. You can’t handle someone living above you, or hate elevators or stairs. With condo living, those in a lower unit will have others living above, which can get noisy and disruptive. Those living in upper units also have neighbor noise to contend with, and will have to haul groceries and other parcels a long way from the car to the front door using an elevator or stairs. Those with physical limitations should be particularly sensitive to this facet of condo living.

8. You like to throw big parties. From limited parking to complaining neighbors, if you are truly an entertainer at heart, a condo might not be the place for you. Plus, there are usually HOA-assessed “quiet hours” as well that you may have to abide by.

If you are considering condo living, you may want to consider the above limitations. It’s important to think this decision through before signing up for something that doesn’t suit your lifestyle.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Renting a Car over Labor Day Weekend?

August 29, 2013 12:39 am

An estimated 34.1 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home this Labor Day weekend, the highest turn out since 2008, when the recession was at its peak, the American Automobile Association reports. Gas prices are also down, nearly 5 percent, another plus for vacationers. However, for those renting a car, it can be confusing, frustrating and downright daunting. Unfortunately, many consumers do not even think about car rental insurance until they get to the counter, which can result in either wasting money by purchasing unnecessary coverage or having dangerous gaps in coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

Before renting a car, I.I.I. suggests that you make two phone calls—one to your insurance professional and another to the credit card company you will be using to pay for the rental car.

1. Insurance Company
Find out how much coverage you currently have on your own car. In most cases, whatever coverage and deductibles you have on your own car would apply when you rent a car, provided you are using the car for recreation and not for business. If you have dropped either comprehensive or collision on your own car as a way to reduce costs, you will not be covered if your rental car is stolen or damaged in an accident.

2. Credit Card Company
Insurance benefits offered by credit card companies differ by both the company and/or the bank that issues the card, as well as by the level of credit card used. For instance, a platinum card may offer more insurance coverage than a gold card.

Credit cards usually cover only damage to or loss of the rented vehicle, not for other cars, personal belongings or the property of others. You may not have personal liability coverage for bodily injury or death claims. Some credit card companies will provide coverage for towing, but many may not provide for diminished value or administrative fees. Some credit card companies have changed their policies, too, so you may not have as much coverage as you thought.

At the Rental Car Counter

Since insurance is state regulated, the cost and coverage will vary from state to state. Consumers, however, can generally choose from the following coverages:

Loss Damage Waiver (LDW)
Also referred to as a collision damage waiver outside the U.S., an LDW is not technically an insurance product. LDWs do, however, relieve or "waive" renters of financial responsibility if their rental car is damaged or stolen. In most cases, waivers also provide coverage for "loss of use," in the event the rental car company charges the renter for the time a damaged car cannot be used because it is being fixed. It may also cover towing and administrative fees.

Liability Insurance
By law, rental companies must provide the state-required amount of liability insurance. Generally, these amounts are low and do not provide much protection. If you have adequate amounts of liability protection on your own car, you may consider forgoing additional liability protection. If you want the supplemental insurance, it will cost between $7 and $14 a day.

Personal Accident Insurance
Personal Accident Insurance offers coverage to you and your passengers for medical and ambulance bills for injuries caused in a car crash. If you have adequate health insurance or are covered by personal injury protection under your own car insurance, you may not need this additional insurance. It usually costs about $1 to $5 a day.

Personal Effects Coverage
Personal Effects Coverage provides insurance protection for the theft of items in your car. If you have a homeowners or renters insurance policy that includes off-premises theft coverage, you are generally covered for theft of your belongings away from home, minus the deductible. If you purchase this coverage through the rental car company, it generally costs between $1 and $4 a day.

If you frequently travel with expensive items such as jewelry, cameras, musical equipment or sports equipment, it may be more cost effective to purchase a personal articles floater under your homeowners or renters insurance policy. With such a floater, your valuable items are protected at home as well as while traveling anywhere in the world and the coverage is broader.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Economy Picks Up Steam: Housing Recovery, Consumer Spending, and Manufacturing Pave the Way

August 29, 2013 12:39 am

Economic growth continues to gain momentum in the second half of the year, as expected, despite the slow start at the beginning of 2013. Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group’s full-year forecast for both the economy and housing market remains on track, with GDP expected to come in at approximately 2.0 percent in 2013 and to accelerate to 2.6 percent in 2014. Fiscal drag is waning, the housing recovery continues, and manufacturing and business investment are rebounding, helping to boost growth. Furthermore, consumer spending and the employment sector appear to be growing sustainably, which may help to offset downside risks from the expected tapering of the Federal Reserve’s securities purchases.

“Our macroeconomic and housing forecast shows very little change from July, and the steady pickup during the past few months validates our expectations for the second half of the year,” said Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. “The biggest risk to this forecast is the expected reduction in the Federal Reserve’s asset purchases, which would likely put additional upward pressure on interest rates and lead to some volatility in capital markets. Although the nature and timing of the tapering are still to be determined, we continue to expect the Fed will scale back its asset purchases and end the program by spring. In addition, we may see some fiscal tightening this fall as the debate over federal spending and the debt ceiling takes place.”

The housing recovery appears to have weathered some of the uncertainty, although additional growth is expected to be modest rather than robust while the market awaits an easing of credit conditions in the presence of rising interest rates. The rise in mortgage rates has led to a drop-off in refinance activity but does not appear to have had much impact on home purchase activity to this point. Home prices are expected to continue to climb, although the pace should slow significantly from the dramatic levels seen during the past 12 months.

Source: Fannie Mae

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Fall Lawn Care Tips

August 28, 2013 12:33 am

Your lawn can be a canvas for expressing yourself. In fact, over half (52 percent) of homeowners surveyed in TruGreen’s Lawn Lifestyles National Survey of America said that “a homeowner’s lawn can tell you a lot about their personality.” Consider your lawn personality as a way to boost your home’s curb appeal. Fall is the proper time to prep lawns, trees and shrubs for spring’s growth cycle and the next home buying season.

Homeowners’ Top Three Ideal Outdoor Spaces

According to the survey, homeowners’ top ideal outdoor space is “functional” (40 percent) or focused on the overall utility of the lawn. Characteristics of this popular response include using the yard for children to play, sport activities, backdrop for entertaining, and growing flowers, fruits or vegetables.

Coming in second is the “formal” (24 percent) outdoor space characterized by a perfectly cut, healthy lawn, clutter-free area, manicured landscaping, and little or no yard accessories. In close third is the “creative” (17 percent) outdoor space driven by the imagination and inspired by the senses. Here you may find wilder foliage, colorful flowers, water features, artistic lawn decorations and charming outdoor lighting.

In comparison to ideal outdoor spaces, more homeowners (45 percent) best described their current outdoor space as “functional.” Fewer respondents categorized their current outdoor space as “formal” (21 percent) or “creative” (10 percent), reflecting that for some homeowners reality doesn’t match the vision that they have for their yard.

Fall Lawn Care Prep

According to the majority of homeowners (79 percent) surveyed, “in selling a home, it is important for the lawn to be in top shape to get the best price.” Fall is the best time to prep lawns, trees and shrubs for spring’s growth cycle, especially with the home buying season right around the corner.

“Lawns become distressed from summer entertaining with family and friends and require care throughout fall,” said Ben Hamza, Ph.D., TruGreen expert and director of technical operations. “A good fall feed is important to lawn, tree and shrub health as roots continue active growth before the dormant winter months and store reserves needed for hungry plants in spring.”

Source: TruGreen

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips to Shake Up Your Front Door

August 28, 2013 12:33 am

Builders, remodelers and homeowners interested in "shaking up" home exteriors should look to the roof first, according to color specialist Kate Smith.

"I always recommend people add color from the top down on a home exterior, starting at the roof and working their way down to the windows, door and trim," says Smith, chief color maven at Sensational Color. "However, I have the most fun with adding color to the front door. When you have a paintable door, you have the ability to add a 'pop' of welcoming color to any entryway."

"In each case the entry door is a prominent feature of the home that deserves special attention. This is the one specific area of the house where a homeowner shows off his or her personality. They may choose a bold red for the door that says 'I'm an extrovert' or a mellow yellow that declares 'I like being part of this community.'"

According to Smith, here’s a look at what different paint colors on entry doors of the home say about the occupants inside:

- Red tells the world to “look at me!” This bright color says I’m not afraid of standing out or saying what’s on my mind.
- White says that I prefer things that are organized, neat and clean. Even if my home isn’t always this way, I wish it was!
- Green tells the world that you have traditional values and enjoy being a member of the community.
- Black says I’m consistent, conservative and reserved in my manner as well as my approach to color. With a black door I’m saying my design style is timeless rather than trendy.
- Blue tells people you are naturally at ease in most situations and people are attracted to your easygoing personality.
- Yellow says you have a personality similar to green, but a bit less traditional. You’re most likely a leader or organizer of a group.
- Purple reveals a “free spirited” person who is comfortable taking risks, thinking differently and dreaming big.

Source: Therma-Tru

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Making Smart Home Improvements

August 28, 2013 12:33 am

When today’s homeowners decide that it’s time for an upgrade, they often look for ways to create a safer, more functional space. Members of the Remodelers Council of the Greater Houston Builders Association agree that clients are making savvy choices.

Jim Nowlin, president of the Council, said most of the recent projects for his company have focused on kitchens and bathrooms.

“The master bath seems to be the biggest thing,” he said. “People are completely gutting and remodeling their bathrooms, adding larger showers, heavy glass enclosures and new cabinetry.”

Nowlin added, “Instead of plain-Jane tile, homeowners are choosing nice decorative tile work with mosaic patterns."

Gonzalo Garcia, vice-president of the Remodelers Council agrees.

“Clients are calling for the conversion of a bath tub to a shower,” he said. Luxury items, like overheard shower heads, also known as rain showers, are high on the list.

Garcia said another trend is the addition of a catch-all room. “The big home theatre is out, and it’s been replaced by a multi-purpose room,” he noted.

These new living spaces might hold a big screen television, library shelves, a work desk and craft tables.

Contractor Larry Abbott said clients are looking for ways to protect their investments and ensure longevity, usefulness and value in the home. He said energy efficiency remains a top priority in the industry. Attention to windows, doors, attic and wall insulation and meticulous weather-stripping is key. Abbott said LED lighting is also popular.

“Although the upfront costs are sometimes hard to swallow, homes are cooler – and most importantly, only cost pennies per year to operate,” he said. “The LED range of color can greatly enhance the beauty of art work and fine features in the home like stone countertops.”

Abbott said that many of his clients are interested in adding a room to the house.

“They are fixing up quarters above the garage either for a parent or for their grown children who haven’t settled on a profession or found their own nest yet."

Source: Remodelers Council of the Greater Houston Builders Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Back-to-School Health Checklist for Parents

August 27, 2013 12:30 am

Summer fun is almost over for about 50 million American students. To ensure that students of all ages go to class in the best possible health, the nation's emergency physicians are advising parents and guardians to do a little homework of their own and go through a back-to-school health checklist.

"Nothing is more important than making sure your child's health is in check," said Dr. Andrew Sama, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. "Make sure all of the necessary forms and information are organized and easily available to those who need it." 


  • Organize your child's medical history records and emergency medical contact information.  Provide copies of this information to your child's school and any day care providers with instructions to take it with them to the emergency department if your child is sick or injured. The form should include information related to prescription medications, medical problems, or previous surgeries as well as pertinent family history and emergency contacts. An emergency information form is also available for children with special needs. Complete a consent-to-treat form and give copies to the school nurse and any day care providers to keep in your child's record and to take with them if your child should need to go to the emergency department. The form will allow caregivers to authorize medical treatment.
  • Coordinate with the school nurse and your child's physician to develop action plans for any health issues, such as asthma or food allergies. Communicate these plans to all appropriate care givers.
  • Schedule medical and dental check-ups before school starts. Some children will need immunizations. Consider vision and hearing tests, since impairment can adversely affect learning. Consider a sports check-up if your child will be playing in sports. 
  • Review and do a dry run with your child of his or her route to school, explaining potential hazards along the way. If your child walks to school, make sure he or she understands potential traffic dangers.
  • If your child takes the bus, establish a safe, visible pick up/drop off spot, preferably with a group of children and in an area where they can be clearly seen by adults. If your child drives to school, make sure he or she obeys all laws and wear seatbelts.  
  • Make sure your children know how to telephone for help. Post emergency contact numbers by every telephone in your home. Have them practice how to call 911 or the local emergency number and give their names, address and a brief description of the problem.
  • Develop a family emergency plan in case something happens on the way to (or from) and while at school. Be aware of the emergency and evacuation plans for your children's schools.

Source: American College of Emergency Physicians

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips for Saving on Moving Expenses

August 27, 2013 12:30 am

Whether you are packing up your college student or moving into the home you purchased this summer, here are some great tips from U-Haul for making the process easier and more cost effective:

  • Plan ahead. Make your reservations as far in advance as possible and use online packing planners to help determine how many boxes you will need.
  • Pack your boxes strategically. Choose a packing room ahead of time and box up a few things each day. Mark each box with its contents and destination room. Have all your boxes packed before you go to rent your truck. Load the heaviest items first, in front and on the floor. Pack items firmly and closely.
  • The last thing you want is the expense of having your personal belongings damaged. Protect your items by using the proper moving supplies, such as biodegradable packing peanuts, bubble wrap or furniture pads made from recycled fabrics. 
  • Save money on your rental by avoiding the weekend rush and especially trying to avoid the end of the month when apartment leases expire. Typically, Sunday through Thursday offers greater equipment availability…plus, banks, utilities and government offices are open.
  • Take advantage of free-storage offers if you need more time to move all of your belongings.
  • Make arrangements in advance for loading and unloading help. Now is the time to call in those favors!
  • Prior to moving, look into your homeowner's insurance policy, as some policies will cover belongings while moving as long as the insurance policy is in force during the move.

Source: U-Haul

Published with permission from RISMedia.

search for homes in southeast pennsylvania search for homes in lehigh valley