REMAX 440/Central Blog

Ideas for Recycling Your Christmas Tree

January 3, 2011 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, January 3, 2011--Christmas has come and gone and most families will be looking to get rid of their tree in the coming week or two. The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) estimates that 30 million natural trees are sold each year. Recently, 93% of respondents told the association that they participate in some sort of tree recycling program. Instead of bringing it to the dump, there are plenty of ways you can recycle your tree and use it for other purposes. Consumer Reports has a few suggestions:

Curbside pickup: For those with enough yard space, leave your tree on the edge of your front yard for town or city pick up. Some towns use leftover trees for mulch for use in public spaces like parks. You may even be able to pick up some of that mulch for your own projects. Check with your city's government or parks and recreation department or visit to find out more information about how your area uses and distributes leftover mulch.

Yard decoration: For non-city dwellers, trees can be put up in your yard to provide shelter for small animals or add to the ambiance of the winter season. Branches can also be cut off and used to protect bare patches in your yard throughout the season.

Donate it for habitat protection: Old trees can also help stabilize habitats, such as areas devastated by natural disasters like hurricanes. They are also sometimes used as safe havens for breeding rare or endangered birds, or as waterways for schools of fish. The NCTA details many of these programs on their website.

Be creative when deciding to recycle or reuse your Christmas tree. For more information, visit

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Mortgage Rescue Scams

January 3, 2011 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, January 3, 2011--For a homeowner facing the frightening threat of foreclosure, the offer seems too good to be true. A mortgage rescue company steps forward, claiming to be able to help you save your credit and your home.

In some cases, the mortgage rescue company provides phantom help offering to work as an intermediary with lenders, collecting an upfront fee for services it never provides or that homeowners easily could have done on their own for free. In other scams, the mortgage rescuer may offer to pay off the delinquent loan and allow homeowners to stay on as renters, with the possibility of buying the home back later. But the scam artist doesnt make the payments and homeowners, who have signed over their deed, end up losing the home and any equity they had in it.

"People who are facing foreclosure need to know there are reputable organizations and industry professionals who can help them turn things around," said Michael Golden, president of @properties. "A good rule of thumb to remember is if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Beth Llewellyn, CEO of the Partnership for HomeOwnership, cautions homeowners facing possible foreclosure to be careful of scams, particularly in larger metropolitan areas.

"Every time theres a drop in the market, youre going to find all kinds of scam artists coming out of the woodwork," said Llewellyn, who also is a U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-certified homeownership counselor with over 12 years of experience helping lower-income families achieve homeownership.

Llewellyn suggests that homeowners who find themselves falling behind on their mortgage payments contact their mortgage lender immediately to see if the loan can be restructured or refinanced before they have been delinquent on their payments for three months and formal foreclosure proceedings have begun.

At-risk homeowners are encouraged to contact a HUD-certified housing counselor who can help walk them through their options. Reputable counselors can be found through the HUD website at or by calling 1-800-569-4287. HUD-certified counselors also can be contacted through the Hope Now Alliance homeowner hotline at 1-888-995-HOPE (4673) or its website at

Homeowners also might want to contact an attorney about their legal options or a local Realtor to get more information regarding fair market housing values.

Illinois instituted tougher guidelines on mortgage rescue companies with the Mortgage Rescue Fraud Act in 2007. The law requires that rescue companies give homeowners a written contract, which the homeowner can cancel at any time, listing the services they will perform before being paid. In the case of a home sale, a written contract also is required and the mortgage rescue company must pay the homeowner at least 82% of the fair market value if the rescue fails.

If homeowners believe they have been victims of a mortgage rescue scam, there are places they can turn, said Michael Golden.

Pending Home Sales Continue Recovery, Gradual Improvement Seen in 2011

January 3, 2011 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, January 3, 2011--Pending home sales rose again in November, with the broad trend over the past five months indicating a gradual recovery into 2011, according to the National Association of REALTORS.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator, rose 3.5% to 92.2 based on contracts signed in November from a downwardly revised 89.1 in October. The index is 5.0% below a reading of 97.0 in November 2009. The data reflects contracts and not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said historically high housing affordability is boosting sales activity. "In addition to exceptional affordability conditions, steady improvements in the economy are helping bring buyers into the market," he said. "But further gains are needed to reach normal levels of sales activity."

The PHSI in the Northeast increased 1.8% to 72.6 in November but is 6.2% below November 2009. In the Midwest the index declined 4.2% in November to 78.3 and is 7.7% below a year ago. Pending home sales in the South slipped 1.8% to an index of 91.4 and are 7.2% below November 2009. In the West the index jumped 18.2% to 123.3 and is 0.4% above a year ago.

"If we add two million jobs as expected in 2011, and mortgage rates rise only moderately, we should see existing-home sales rise to a higher, sustainable volume," Yun said. "Credit remains tight, but if lenders return to more normal, safe underwriting standards for creditworthy buyers, there would be a bigger boost to the housing market and spillover benefits for the broader economy."

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is forecast to rise gradually to 5.3% around the end of 2011; at the same time, unemployment should drop to 9.2%.

For perspective, Yun said that the U.S. has added 27 million people over the past 10 years. "However, the number of jobs is roughly the same as it was in 2000 when existing-home sales totaled 5.2 million, which appears to be a sustainable figure given the current level of employment," he explained.

"All the indicator trends are pointing to a gradual housing recovery," Yun said. "Home price prospects will vary depending largely upon local job market conditions. The national median home price, however, is expected to remain stable even with a continuing flow of distressed properties coming onto the market, as long as there is a steady demand of financially healthy home buyers."

Existing-home sales are projected to rise about 8% to 5.2 million in 2011 from 4.8 million in 2010, with an additional gain of 4% in 2012. The median existing-home price could rise 0.6% to $173,700 in 2011 from $172,700 in 2010, which was essentially unchanged from 2009.

"As we gradually work off the excess housing inventory, supply levels will eventually come more in-line with historic averages, and could allow home prices to rise modestly in the range of 2 to 3% in 2012," Yun said.

New-home sales are estimated to rise 24% to 392,000 in 2011, but would remain well below historic averages, while housing starts are forecast to rise 21% to 716,000.

Yun sees Gross Domestic Product growing 2.5% in 2011, and the Consumer Price Index rising 2.3%.

The Best Ways to Save Water at Home

December 31, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, December 31, 2010--As more individuals are looking for ways to become more eco-conscious, a simple place to start is by saving water. To make your daily routine water-friendly, try these tips from, a Web-based initiative that informs, engages, and empowers consumers about environmentally friendly products and practices.

In the Kitchen:

1. Run the dishwasher and the washing machine only when they are full.

2. Dont pre-rinse dishes before loading the dishwasher. Youll save as much as 20 gallons a load, or 6,500 gallons per year. Our tests show pre-rinsing doesnt improve cleaning.

3. Use recycled water on plants. Sources include water left from boiled eggs, tea kettles, and washed vegetables; dehumidifier condensate.

4. Steam vegetables instead of boiling. Besides using less water, youll retain more vitamins in the food.

5. Chill drinking water in the refrigerator instead of running the faucet until the water is cold.

In the Bathroom:

6. Fix toilet leaks. To determine whether your toilet is leaking, add food coloring to the tank water and let it sit 15 minutes. If it appears in the bowl, theres a leak.

7. Turn off the faucet when brushing teeth. Faucets can spout two to three gallons per minute.

8. Time your showers to keep them short; this can cut 5 to 7 gallons per minute with an old-style showerhead. Or turn off the water while lathering.

9. Install new showerheads and low-flow faucets.

10. Insulate your water heater and all hot-water pipes so you waste less while waiting for the hot water to flow.

Miscellaneous Tips:

11. Check your homes water meter for system leaks. Turn off all faucets and water-using appliances; then read your meter. Make sure no one uses water for 30 minutes; then take a second reading. If the dial has moved, you have a leak in a toilet or water pipe.

12. Participate in water-conservation programs in hotels and motels. Many lodging establishments give you ways to inform the maid that you dont need fresh towels every day, which will save on their laundry-water usage.

13. Patronize commercial car washes that use recycled water. Or, wash at home, if watering restrictions permit, using a bucket of water, not a running hose.

4 Steps to Creating a Modern Interior

December 31, 2010 10:29 am

By Lorrie Browne, RISMedia Guest Columnist

RISMEDIA, December 31, 2010--Modernfurnishings add simple sophistication and interest to any room.The clean lines, fresh colors and simple details are very pleasing to the eye. In recent years, we have seen very heavy traditional looks emerge from the major furniture manufacturers. I feel thatthe modernstyleis awelcome change.

I am going to highlight some of the great modern pieces I have spotted as well as give you some guidelines on how to add the modern styleto your own home.

  1. Jump In. Select one modern piece that appeals to you and you will be on your way. Dont be intimidated by mixing traditional with modern. Think of it as a piece of artwork that is an accent in your room.
  2. Look for Quality. Some people may think that buying modern furniture is going to cost them less money because the pieces are not as intricate or heavy. This is simply not so. Because the pieces are simpler, flaws are harder to hide. Make sure the pieceshave a high-quality finish, hardwood elements (nothing is made of fiberboard - like drawer bottoms or the back of the piece) and that nothing creaks or wobbles when you sit on it.
  3. Seek Antiques. Most people do not think of antiques when they think of modern furniture, yet there are many mid-century modern pieces that are very popular these days. From newly made reproductions to antiques on eBay and 1st Dibs, you can discover a high-quality piece and start your own collection.
  4. Start with Art, Lighting or Accessories. Test the waterswith something small but noticeable. In my home, the most modern element is the artwork and I really love it. Modern paintings and photos with simple black frames add a bold accent to your room.

Whether you have always been a fan of themodern styleor if you are considering your first piece, I am confident that with a keen eye and the tips above you will find the perfect addition to your home.

Five Quick, Cheap and Easy Energy Savings Tips

December 31, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, December 31, 2010--A little bit of energy saved in several places can substantially reduce your overall utility bills, and in these economic times, everything helps. Here are five quick tips.

First, replace your heater's air filter monthly. Your heating system will work less hard, use less energy and last longer as a result. Most homeowners can replace filters and do such simple tasks as cleaning and removing dust from vents or along baseboard heaters.

Second, install a programmable thermostat that allows you to automatically turn down the heat when you're away at work or when you're sleeping at night, and then boost the temperature to a comfortable level when you need it. It takes less energy to warm a cool home than to maintain a warm temperature all day long. A properly programmed thermostat could cut your heating costs from 20% to 75%.

Third, reverse the switch on your ceiling fans so they blow upward, toward the ceiling. Ceiling fans are a great idea in the summer, when air blowing downward can improve circulation and make a room feel four degrees cooler. A cooling draft is a poor idea when it's cold, however. By reversing the fan's direction, the blades move air upward in winter. This is especially valuable in high ceiling rooms, where heat that naturally rises is forced back down into the room.

Fourth, use energy-efficient light bulbs. The new compact fluorescent light bulbs can shave as much as 25% off of your electric bill each year. These bulbs also outlast traditional incandescent light bulbs while producing the same amount of lumens.

Finally, make sure all hearing vents are opened and unblocked by furniture or other items. This will ensure that the air is evenly distributed through the home.

By following these quick and easy tips, you will be well on your way to saving some of your hard-earned money.

Sandra Bullock Named Most Desirable Celebrity Neighbor for 2011

December 30, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, December 30, 2010U.S. adults would most like to be neighbors with Sandra Bullock in 2011, according to the fourth annual Zillow Celebrity Neighbor Survey. The cast of the reality TV show Jersey Shore was named the least desirable neighbor of 2010. The survey asked U.S. adults which celebrities and politicians they would most like to be their neighbor, and with whom they wouldn't want to share a fence.

Most desirable neighbors for 2011

In the coming year, 26% of adults surveyed would like to be neighbors with Sandra Bullock. Bullock's popularity was significantly higher among females (30%) compared to males (22%).

Fewer Americans said they would like to be neighbors with the Obamas in 2011. Last year, the family was voted the most popular neighbor with 14% of the vote, but ranked fourth on this year's list with 8% of the vote. For the past three years, Sarah Palin has maintained a top two ranking on Zillow's survey, consistently receiving 10% or more of the vote.

Talk show hosts Ellen DeGeneres and wife Portia DeRossi, along with Conan O'Brien, received 9% and 7% of the vote, respectively.

"It was voyeuristic fun getting to know the Jersey Shore crew as they partied and fist-pumped week after week on reality televisionbut do we want to live 'up close and personal' next door? Americans said no way," said Zillow Vice President of Marketing and Communications Amy Bohutinsky. "Meanwhile, not surprisingly, we learned that polarizing politicians make polarizing neighbors, with the Obamas and Sarah Palin taking high slots on both our 'most desirable' and 'worst neighbor lists."

Worst neighbors for 2010

Americans did not feel all celebrities made good neighbors. More than one in five (26%) named the Jersey Shore cast the worst neighbors of 2010. Respondents in the Northeast, where the Jersey Shore reality show was originally based, were more opposed to having the cast as neighbors (33%). Significantly more women (29%) than men (22%) also felt the housemates were poor neighbors.

Fifteen percent of respondents found the Obamas to be the worst neighbors. The First Family was followed closely by Sarah Palin (13%). More than one in 10 respondents (11%) did not want to live next to rapper Kanye West. Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen, who both faced criminal charges in 2010, received 10% and 8% of the vote, respectively.

Most Desirable Neighbors for 2011

  • Sandra Bullock 26%
  • Sarah Palin 10%
  • Ellen DeGeneres and Portia DeRossi 9%
  • The Obamas 8%
  • Conan O'Brien 7%
  • Lady Gaga 3%
  • Katy Perry and Russell Brand 2%
  • Justin Bieber 1%
  • Other 7%
  • None of the above 27%

Worst Neighbors of 2010

  • The Jersey Shore Cast 26%
  • The Obamas 15%
  • Sarah Palin 13%
  • Kanye West 11%
  • Mel Gibson 10%
  • Charlie Sheen 8%
  • LeBron James 3%
  • Mark Zuckerberg 1%
  • Other 1%
  • None of the above 13%

For more information, visit

4 Ways You Can Make 2011 a Great Year for Your Financial Future

December 30, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, December 30, 2010--If youre like most, you may still be clutching your wallet and recovering from December's holiday madness. However, it's the perfect time of year to rethink your financial future and look ahead to 2011. According to financial expert Eric Tyson, author of Investing For Dummies and coauthor along with Robert Griswold of Real Estate Investing For Dummies, by doing so, youll open yourself up to some great investment opportunities. By taking an optimistic investing approach during the upcoming year, you can actually profit from the recovering economy.

1. Take advantage of low prices. Instead of looking at deflated housing and stock values as a bad thing, look at them as opportunity makers. Because prices have fallen, these investments are more affordable and you can buy now and watch current values increase over time. Take real estate, for example. Recent data out from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) shows that their home affordability index (HAI) is at the best level in more than three decades. If you have good credit and can put down at least 10-20% of the price, investing in real estate is actually more viable an investment than it has been in years.

"The same is true of stock prices," says Tyson. "Because of the downturn, many strong companies have stocks that are undervalued. If you buy these stocks now, as the market stabilizes and things improve, values will increase and your portfolio will be the benefactor."

2. But look before you leap. In other words, do your homework before you throw down the cash, says Tyson. Some companies stocks are low for a reason. Before choosing which companies you would like to invest in, you have to do the research and make sure that they are fundamentally strong. Where real estate is concerned, there are still areas where properties are overvalued, so youll have to do the research to make sure you buy in an area where prices have already fallen in line with market fundamentals.

"These caveats are just reminders that you shouldnt go into any investment without doing your homework first," says Tyson. "Making irresponsible investment decisions is what created the problems we are having. By researching your options, you will be able to make sounder, more profitable decisions."

3. Be careful where you get your advice. Misinformation abounds. There are a lot of pundits and so-called financial experts out there who are giving questionable advice and are making terrible predictions, says Tyson. Whats more, their past track records indicate that we should take their words with a substantial grain of salt. "Financial pundits are a dime a dozen right now," says Tyson. "Be very careful about whose advice you follow and whose economic predictions you buy into.

4. Keep thinking long-term. If you make investments thinking you are going to see quick returns, you will be disappointed. Where real estate is concerned, the days of buy it, flip it and sell it quickly for a huge profit are over. What you can do is buy property now--particularly in areas where its now properly valued and even undervalued--and watch its value accrue over time as the market stabilizes and improves. You should take the same approach to any stock investments you make.

"If you invest calmly and rationally, rather than reacting emotionally, it can be remembered as the year you made some smart, long-term financial decisions," says Tyson. "If you take advantage of whats going on in the real estate and stock markets right now, you could be setting yourself up for a very profitable future.

NAR Encouraged by Rising Existing-Home Sales

December 30, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, December 30, 2010--Existing-home sales rose 5.6% in the month of November, according to the National Association of REALTORS. This number includes completed transactions of single-family, townhouses, condos and co-ops, and increased to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.68 million during the month, up from October's 4.43 million. Sales were 27.9% below the peak of November 2009, which was the initial deadline for the first-time homebuyer tax credit, reports HousingWire. Regardless, NAR remains confident in this spike.

"Continuing gains in home sales are encouraging, and the positive impact of steady job creation will more than trump some negative impact from a modest rise in mortgage interest rates, which remain historically favorable," says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

Affordability, says Yun, is a large factor to the increase. "The relationship recently between mortgage interest rates, home prices and family income has been the most favorable on record for buying a home since we started measuring in 1970. The market is recovering and we should trend up to a healthy, sustainable level in 2011," he says.

Additional findings were as follows:

  • The median existing-home price for all housing types was $170,600 in November, up 0.4% from November 2009.
  • Another NAR survey shows first-time buyers purchased 32% of homes in November, the same as in October.
  • Investors accounted for 19% of transactions in November, unchanged from October, but up from 12% in November 2009.
  • Single-family home sales rose 6.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.15 million in November from 3.89 million in October.

For more information, visit

7 Tips for First-Timers Buying a Property at an Auction

December 29, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, December 29, 2010--In a time of growing repossessions around the world, auction purchases are becoming an increasingly common way to purchase property. Auctions are recognized as one of the best places to find a bargain buy, as well as providing a quick, secure and straightforward transaction process, with minimum fuss and in a completely transparent environment that is ultimately decided by the drop of a hammer.

Once you have achieved the first step of deciding to actually purchase a property at an auction, the next stage--as it is whenever you attempt to purchase property--is to get prepared. If youre planning on attending an auction, recommends the following tips for a smooth transaction.

1. State of Mind No matter how calm a person you may think you are, buying property at auction can be daunting as well as exciting. It's easy to get caught up in the moment and feel overwhelmed, so the last thing you want to do is panic and end up bidding too high for something and exceeding your budget. It's always advisable to have a maximum amount in mind before you go to the auction.

It is also recommended that you attend at least one auction before you attempt to purchase, allowing you to soak up the atmosphere and to familiarize yourself with how the whole thing works.

2. Property View Once you're comfortable with the auction environment and you have chosen the auction that you wish to attend, the next essential thing to do is to request a catalogue to view the properties available and to then arrange with the auctioneer to see the properties you are interested in.

The auctioneers will have allotted times for each property. Although bidding on and buying a property you've never seen before may sound exciting, the chances are it will prove costly one way or the other. Remember, there's no point purchasing a house at a knock-down price if it needs knocking down.

3. Researching the Property Make sure you do your research thoroughly on the property and compare its price and condition to similar properties in the area listed with local estate agents. You will very often find that the guide price of auction properties are set relatively low in order to entice bidders, so have in mind what you think the true market value of the property isthen bid accordingly.

4. Legal Matters There is normally a legal pack on the property you are interested in available from the auctioneers. r It is essential that you digest this thoroughly and if you're unsure about something, have a solicitor go over it; there may be more concerns with an auction property than that of one on the open market.

5. Finances The completion period for auction properties is 28 days, so it is vital that you have your finances set up before hand, whether it's making sure you have the cash available or a mortgage set up in principle. A 10% deposit on the property is always required on auction day. It's not unusual for buyers to lose their deposit because they couldn't come up with the rest of the balance.

6. Auction Day As well as having your 10% deposit on that day, make sure you also have identification documents. Whats more, auctions can be crowded affairs, so get there early if you want a seat. When the time comes to bid, make sure you can be seen by the auctioneer and that he or she is aware of when you're actually bidding, as opposed to scratching your nose.

7. Bide your Time while Bidding Finally, what the whole build-up comes down to, bidding for the property of your choice. Bidding at auction is a strange sensation; it's exhilarating and extremely daunting, especially as the pressure mounts and you are bidding for something that is popular and a number of other bidders get involved.

Stay as calm as possible, think clearly and bide your time while bidding. Remember to not exceed the maximum figure that you have set for yourself; it can be very tempting to go over budget, particularly if you've invested a lot of time and effort prior to auction. A good way to avoid this is to take someone with you who will help keep you in check.

If you are bidding on a property and it fails to meet its reserve price, this doesn't necessarily mean it is the end of the matter. The auctioneers can still act as agents and are able to negotiate between you and the vendors after the auction. Likewise, it is sometimes possible for a deal to be tied up prior to auction, so it may be worthwhile checking this possibility out with the auctioneers beforehand.

By familiarizing yourself with the auction process, you can increase your chances at coming out a winner with a new home in hand.

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