RE/MAX 440
Margot Aronson Sells Homes, Realtor®, ABR, ASR, CDPE
margotaronson@live.com
Margot Aronson Sells Homes, Realtor®, ABR, ASR, CDPE
4092 Skippack Pike, P.O. Box 880
Skippack  PA 19474
PH: 610-306-7939
O: 610-584-1160
C: 610-306-7939
F: 267-354-6943 
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5 Steps to a Home Fire Safety Plan

December 8, 2015 1:45 am

Did you know you may have just two minutes to exit your home in the event of a fire?

According to a recent survey by the American Red Cross, many have a false sense of security when it comes to fire safety, with some believing they have as much as 10 minutes to leave their home if a fire breaks out. Most parents believe their children know what to do in case of fire, despite only half discussing fire safety with their families—just 10 percent of families have actually practiced home fire drills, and only about 25 percent have identified a safe place where family members can meet outside the home, the survey found.

To keep your family safe from home fires, the Red Cross advises the following tips:

• Test your smoke alarms every month and replace the batteries when needed.
• Develop a fire escape plan and practice it several times a year and at different times of day.
• Ensure there are two ways to get out of every room and consider escape ladders for sleeping areas or homes on the second floor or above.
• Pick a place outside of the home for everyone to meet and make sure everyone knows where it is.
• Practice the home fire drill until everyone in the household can do it in less than two minutes.

Source: American Red Cross

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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10 Years in Housing: What's Changed?

December 8, 2015 1:45 am

From the recession to new regulation, the housing market has seen unprecedented change in the last 10 years. In that time, the United States Census Bureau has documented those changes through the American Community Survey, the nation’s largest ongoing household survey that produces statistics annually at all levels of geography.

"The American Community Survey is how America knows what America needs," Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson says. "From its beginning 10 years ago, it immediately proved to be a vital tool in providing a portrait of Gulf Coast communities recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Today, it is the premier source of statistics for anyone needing detailed local information for small towns, neighborhoods and communities both rural and urban."

Survey highlights over the past 10 years include:

• Between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, median monthly housing costs for owners with a mortgage increased in 177 counties and decreased in 1,163 counties. In 1,798 counties, the change was not statistically significant. In 171 counties, owners with a mortgage had a median monthly housing cost greater than $1,750, with 63 of these counties located in the Northeast.

• Between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, median gross rent increased in 719 counties and decreased in 204 counties. The change was not statistically significant in 2,217 counties. In 182 counties, renters had a median gross rent of more than $1,000, with 65 of these counties located in the South, 62 counties located in in the West, 49 counties located in the Northeast and six located in the Midwest.

• Between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, the percent of housing units that were owner-occupied increased in 115 counties and decreased in 931 counties. The change was not statistically significant in 2,096 counties. In 136 counties, more than 80 percent of the housing units were owner-occupied, with 73 of these counties located in the Midwest.

• Between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, median household income increased in 187 counties and decreased in 991 counties. The change in median income was not statistically significant in 1,964 counties. 260 counties had median household income greater than $60,000, and 223 had median household income of less than $35,000. Counties surrounding Washington, D.C. and New York City had among the highest median household incomes, along with counties in the San Francisco and Los Angeles metropolitan areas.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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Holiday Shopping? 7 Bad Spending Habits to Avoid

December 7, 2015 1:42 am

Holiday shopping may be fun, but it can also negatively impact your finances if gone unchecked. Avoiding debt, says American Bankers Association (ABA) Foundation Executive Director Corey Carlisle, is the goal.

“The holiday season is an exciting and inspiring time of the year that promotes giving, but spending within your means is the best gift you can give yourself,” says Carlisle. “Managing a realistic budget and developing a shopping list that compliments it will help you start the New Year with a clean financial slate."

Below, says Carlisle, are seven bad spending habits to avoid:
 
• Forgetting to Plan Ahead – Before you start shopping, develop a realistic budget. Consider your income, subtract your normal monthly expenses and then add any savings to whatever cash is left over. If you need to use your credit card, think about what you can afford to pay back in January.  
 
• Losing Track of Other Costs – Don’t forget costs beyond gifts, like postage, gift wrap, decorations, greeting cards, food, travel and charitable contributions.
 
• Winging It – Make and list and check it twice. Keep your gift list limited to family and close friends, noting how much you want to spend on each. 

• Waiting until the Last Minute to Shop – Avoid shopping while rushed or under pressure, which can lead to overspending.  Make sure to comparison shop online first, or download an app that lets you compare prices before you buy anything in a store. Before you head to the cashier (or online checkout), make sure your purchase is within the budget you set.

• Shopping Impulsively – Finding a spectacular sale on something you’ve been wanting can easily throw you off course.  Stay strong and stick to your budget.  And don’t apply for store credit cards you don’t need just to get a one-time discount.

• Using Credit Recklessly – Limit the use of credit for holiday spending.  If you must use credit, use only one card—preferably the one with the lowest interest rate—and leave the rest at home.  Pick a date when you can pay off your holiday credit card bills, and commit to paying off the balance by that time.  Be sure to check statements for unauthorized charges and report them immediately.

• Throwing Away Your Receipts – Not only will you need them for possible returns, you’ll need them to keep track of what you’ve spent and to compare with your credit card statement.  Knowing how much you spent will help you plan for next year, too.

Source: ABA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Revamp Your Home with Double the Color in 2016

December 7, 2015 1:42 am

Planning to revamp your home next year? Draw color inspiration from “Serenity” and “Rose Quartz,” the colors selected by world-renowned color authority Pantone for 2016. When paired together, “Serenity,” a wispy, blue-gray, and “Rose Quartz,” a pale, coral pink, meld into a palette that embodies tranquility and inner peace.

“With the whole greater than its individual parts, joined together Serenity and Rose Quartz demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. “This more unilateral approach to color is coinciding with societal movements toward gender equality and fluidity, the consumers’ increased comfort with using color as a form of expression which includes a generation that has less concern about being typecast or judged, and an open exchange of digital information that has opened our eyes to different approaches to color usage.”

In the home environment, these shades encourage relaxation, whether they are paired together or with other tones. An ideal choice for rugs and upholstery, “Serenity” and “Rose Quartz” also work well in paint and for decorative accessories. Coupling solid and patterned fabrics, throws, pillows and bedding in these colors provides a comforting respite and feeling of well-being in the home. Incorporating texture enhances the duality and kinship of these hues.

“Serenity”- and “Rose Quartz”-colored kitchen items and tableware, as well as home accessories like candles, decorative bowls, vases and florals, add subtle color accents while contributing to a welcoming and peaceful space. To complement these color choices, translucent, glazing, matte and metallic shine are key finishes.

Source: Pantone®

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Three-Peat: Mortgage Rates Still Low

December 7, 2015 1:42 am

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate continues to decline, this time for the third consecutive week, according to the Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®). On average, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) stands at 3.93 percent.

“Treasury yields ticked down three basis points after weak manufacturing data,” explains Sean Becketti, chief economist for Freddie Mac. “In response, the 30-year mortgage rate dropped two basis points to 3.93 percent.”

The 15-year FRM, according to the survey, averages 3.16 percent. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averages 2.99 percent, and the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averages 2.61 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Expectations—and Realities—of Retirement

December 4, 2015 1:33 am

The reality experienced by actual retirees diverges from the expectations voiced by pre-retirees, suggesting the retirement outlook is transforming with the times.

“The retirement landscape is changing, with many workers planning to work past the traditional retirement age of 65,” explains Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies® (TCRS), which recently released a report comparing and contrasting retirement perceptions and actual experiences. ”This new vision of retirement among workers is a tremendous departure from the experiences of those already in retirement.”

According to the TCRS report, retirement arrived sooner than planned for most retirees, at a median age of 62. Reasons cited by retirees include:

• Organizational changes at their place of work
• Job loss
• Being unhappy with their job or career
• Receiving a retirement incentive or buyout
• Ill health
• Family responsibilities
• Financial ability to do so

Retirees also anticipate a long retirement—a median of 28 years—with limited income and competing financial priorities.

“Today’s retirees envision spending decades in retirement, albeit with limited savings and means,” says Collinson. “Most retirees are reliant on Social Security. For many, a major unexpected expense or the need to pay for long-term care could prove financially devastating.”

Few retirees believe they’ve built a large enough nest egg; the median total household savings in all retirement accounts among retirees at the time of their retirement was $131,000. A precipitous gap exists between those who are married ($225,000) and unmarried ($53,000). The annual household income among retirees is a median of $32,000.

The majority of retirees indicate Social Security is one of their current sources of income, and a large portion of that majority relies on Social Security as primary income.

Retirees identify myriad financial obligations, including “just getting by” and covering basic living expenses, paying healthcare expenses, paying off mortgages, paying off credit card debt and continuing to save for retirement.

Despite these obligations, retirees are generally happy and have a strong sense of purpose in life. Most consider themselves in good or excellent health.

“Retirees may be facing formidable financial challenges; however, they are also finding meaningful ways to spend their time and enjoy life,” Collinson says.

Since retiring, retirees are spending their time on a variety of activities, including:

• Spending more time with family and friends
• Pursuing hobbies
• Traveling
• Doing volunteer work
• Taking care of grandchildren

Contrary to pre-retiree expectations, just a small fraction of retirees are currently employed or self-employed.

“Given that so many retirees are self-reported to be in good health, the question naturally arises whether opportunities are available for them to get a job or pursue other ways to earn income in order to become more financially healthy,” Collinson says.

“One of the most important things within reach that retirees and pre-retirees can do is formulate a financial plan to identify opportunities, vulnerabilities, and ways to address them.”

Source: TCRS

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Deck the Halls: Expert Ways to Trim a Tree

December 4, 2015 1:33 am

(Family Features) Among the most treasured of holiday delights is, as the carol says, decking the halls. And when it comes to holiday décor, a little imagination—and inspiration —is all it takes to create a festive home indoors and out.

This guide to trimming a tree, curated by the experts at Pier 1 Imports, will help you do just that.

If you’re celebrating the season with a Christmas tree, consider making a statement with a tree that reflects your personal style. Start by choosing a theme, such as traditional, glamorous or fantastical, and carry that theme throughout every element of the tree, from the ornaments to the paper wrapping the gifts below it.

If using a pre-lit tree, its shape and style should play into your theme, too. Noble fir or pine? Slim or full silhouettes? The best option will be one that suits your taste and overall theme.

When decorating a pre-lit tree, place large elements first, like garlands and oversized ornaments. Tuck ornaments back into the branches, placing evenly throughout. Fill open spaces with smaller ornaments or floral picks. Crown your tree with a decorative topper that fits your theme to add height and an extra personal touch.

When finished decorating, wrap a coordinating tree skirt or collar around the base of the tree. Bundle your gifts with wrapping paper, gift bags, tags and bows that also fit your theme for a cohesive, finished look from top to bottom.

Source: Pier 1 Imports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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8 Ways to Protect Your Landscape from Wintry Weather

December 4, 2015 1:33 am

Be it freezing temperatures, snow or ice, wintry weather can damage, and even destroy, the landscaping on your property—no matter how resilient your plants seem.

“When inclement weather is in the forecast, most people focus on stocking up on food, rock salt and other necessities, and don’t necessarily think about protecting their property and landscape investments,” says Missy Henriksen, vice president of Public Affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP). “The truth is, plants and trees can be especially vulnerable during periods of extreme weather. A few simple steps can make a big difference when it comes to ensuring that your landscaping survives the winter and will thrive again in the spring.”

To protect your trees, shrubs and other plants, the NALP suggests:

Wrapping plants and smaller trees - Sub-freezing temperatures can damage many plant varieties, including roses, butterfly bushes, hydrangeas and crape myrtles. To provide plants with extra protection from the wind and cold, wrap them in burlap or a frost protection fabric and plant them along a building or fence that offers wind protection. 

Inspecting newly planted trees and filling in any cracks - If you spot a crack, fill it with soil to prevent cold air from penetrating the root zone. Plant roots are slower to become dormant in the winter than stems, branches and buds, making them more vulnerable to sub-freezing temperatures.

Applying mulch around trees and shrubs - A two- to three-inch layer of mulch will help to insulate roots when the temperature drops. Contrary to popular belief, snow cover will also act as an insulator and keep soil temperatures higher, so there is no need to remove accumulated snow from around plants.

Watering heavily before the ground freezes - If the fall season was particularly dry, watering heavily can help reduce frost penetration. Because moist soil holds more heat than dry soil, watering ahead of cold weather will help to prevent frost from penetrating as deeply.

Pruning tree branches - Trimming back branches will help protect against heavy snow and ice damage. Work with a professional to identify any dead or dangerous tree limbs that should be trimmed to protect your home and property.

Preparing for windy conditions - Wind can be one of the most damaging effects of a winter storm. Secure any potted plants, outdoor furniture, awnings and other items on your property that could get damaged in high winds. 

Protecting plants from salt - Rock salt used to deice sidewalks and roads can cause damage to plants. Avoid planting trees and shrubs in areas where salty runoff collects or where salt spray from passing cars could splash onto plants. Consider using burlap barriers to protect plants in vulnerable areas. 

Planning your landscape with climate in mind - The best way to prevent damage to your landscape is to select plants and trees that are indigenous to your region, and therefore naturally equipped to survive in the climate. A landscape professional can help you to design a landscape for your home that will suit your lifestyle and withstand your region’s elements.

Source: NALP

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Donating to Charity? Tax Provisions to Consider

December 3, 2015 1:33 am

Giving season is upon us. Whether you plan to gift monetarily or through in-kind donations, there are several recently-effective tax law provisions to be aware of, according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Among these are:

Guidelines for Monetary Donations

• A taxpayer must have a bank record or a written statement from the charity in order to deduct any donation of money, regardless of the amount. The record must show the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution.

• Bank records include canceled checks and bank, credit union and credit card statements. Bank or credit union statements should show the name of the charity, the date and the amount paid. Credit card statements should show the name of the charity, the date and the transaction posting date.
 
• Donations of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. For payroll deductions, the taxpayer should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document furnished by the employer showing the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.
 
• These requirements for the deduction of monetary donations do not change the long-standing requirement that a taxpayer obtain an acknowledgment from a charity for each deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. However, one statement containing all of the required information may meet both requirements.
 
Guidelines for Charitable Contributions of Clothing and Household Items
 
• Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens. Clothing and household items donated to charity generally must be in good used condition or better to be tax-deductible. A clothing or household item for which a taxpayer claims a deduction of over $500 does not have to meet this standard if the taxpayer includes a qualified appraisal of the item with the return.
 
• For all donations of property, including clothing and household items, get from the charity, if possible, a receipt that includes the name of the charity, date of the contribution, and a reasonably-detailed description of the donated property. If a donation is left at a charity’s unattended drop site, keep a written record of the donation that includes this information, as well as the fair market value of the property at the time of the donation and the method used to determine that value.
 
• Donors must get a written acknowledgement from the charity for all gifts worth $250 or more. It must include, among other things, a description of the items contributed.
 
• The deduction for a car, boat or airplane donated to charity is usually limited to the gross proceeds from its sale. This rule applies if the claimed value is more than $500. Form 1098-C or a similar statement must be provided to the donor by the organization and attached to the donor’s tax return.
 
Before making any monetary donation or charitable contribution, determine the eligibility of the organization. Only donations to eligible organizations are tax-deductible. Select Check, a searchable online tool available on IRS.gov, lists most organizations that are eligible to receive deductible contributions.
 
Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations. That is true even if they are not listed in the tool’s database.
 
Keep in mind that contributions are deductible in the year made. Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2015 count for 2015, even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until 2016. Checks count for 2015 as long as they are mailed in 2015.
 
For individuals, only taxpayers who itemize their deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A can claim deductions for charitable contributions. This deduction is not available to individuals who choose the standard deduction. This includes anyone who files a short form (Form 1040A or 1040EZ). A taxpayer will have a tax savings only if the total itemized deductions (mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes, etc.) exceed the standard deduction. Use the 2015 Form 1040 Schedule A to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.
 
Remember, too, that if the amount of a taxpayer’s deduction for all noncash contributions is over $500, a properly-completed Form 8283 must be submitted with the tax return.
 
Source: IRS

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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6 Home Improvements for a Guest-Ready House

December 3, 2015 1:33 am

Welcoming visitors this holiday season? A few strategic improvements can help whip your home into guest-ready shape, says Sergei Kaminskiy, owner of Kaminskiy Home Remodeling.

“There are great little improvements you can make to your home prior to the busy holiday season, without disrupting the house,” Kaminskiy says.  For instance, “lighting by far is one of the most overlooked features to improving the character of a room.”

In addition to cleaning oft-neglected lighting fixtures, Kaminskiy recommends adding dimmers to enhance a holiday dinner party or capture the overall spirit of the season.

After addressing the lighting, Kaminskiy suggests focusing on the guest bathroom, which will be one of the most heavily trafficked rooms during the holidays. He advises applying a fresh coat of paint, removing old caulking from showers, windows and other sealed areas, and introducing holiday cheer with a festive set of hand towels or a bath mat.

Kaminskiy also proposes an upgrade in the kitchen—an island, if you don’t already have one. Adding one will not only provide more seating for holiday guests, but also offer more counter and storage space you can use throughout the year.

“For under $500, you can find a very attractive kitchen island that is mobile and extremely functional,” says Kaminskiy.

Source: Kaminskiy Home Remodeling

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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