RE/MAX 440
Susanne Porter ABR, CRS, GRI
440 South West End Blvd, RT 309
Quakertown  PA 18951
 Phone: 267-261-4608
Office Phone: 215-538-4400
Cell: 267-261-4608
Fax: 267-354-6883 
SuePorteratREMAX@aol.com
Susanne Porter ABR, CRS, GRI

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Hit the Slopes in These 7 Late-Season Locales

February 23, 2016 2:01 am

Spring appears to already have sprung in some parts of the country, but there’s still a few more weeks left for winter enthusiasts to enjoy the outdoors. Here are the best winter getaways, plus accommodations, for late-season fun, rounded up Booking.com:

1. Mont-Tremblant, Quebec
Imagine a cosy B&B with all the comforts of home nestled in its beautiful surroundings. Only a 10-minute drive from Mont-Tremblant Ski Resort, Au Beau Soleil Bed & Breakfast is sure to soothe the body (and soul!) after a day on the slopes.

2. Big Sky, Mt.
The western stylings of Shoshone embrace the countryside with great views and private balconies to show off the majestic landscape, while placing you just a short stroll from the mountain village and several ski slopes. Also, Yellowstone National Park is only an hour's drive away.

3. Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler Lodge Hostel is full of fun with a game lounge, large open terrace, soothing sauna and a hot tub. It’s less than 2 miles from your ultimate destination, one of the longest and greatest ski runs in North America.

4. Killington, Vt.
Killington Grand Resort Hotel offers comfort and class in stunning surroundings. If you're game to explore more of this gorgeous area, the famous Killington Peak is only a 3-minute drive away.

5. Sun Peaks, British Columbia
It’s easy to mistake your surroundings for the Swiss Alps when you arrive at Sun Peaks Lodge. This quaint chalet provides all the essentials for a spa day and is only steps away from the chair lifts.

6. Olympic Valley, Calif.
Tucked amongst enormous and enchanting trees, Resort at Squaw Creek is one of the highest resorts in California. Step outside to hit the mountain or take a short drive to one of California's greatest gems, Lake Tahoe. No matter what you're looking for, this area has plenty of winter festivities.

7. Winter Park, Colo.
The gorgeous Zephyr Mountain Lodge offers spacious suites with phenomenal fireplaces and fully equipped kitchens. Take a 4-minute stroll straight to the ski lifts to start your winter adventure.

Source: Booking.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Your Yard: Go Beyond Utility with Retaining Walls

February 23, 2016 2:01 am

(BPT)—Retaining walls are commonly used to address varying degrees of elevation on a property. Did you know they they can also be used to enhance the functionality of an outdoor living space?

“Because segmental retaining walls are both durable and beautiful, landscapers and homeowners can use them to create outdoor seating, raised patios and other features," says Scott Arnold, manager of Villa Landscapes in St. Paul, Minn. “They are the perfect building block to create grill islands, outdoor kitchens and so much more.”

With retaining wall systems, homeowners can create freestanding walls, columns, stairs, planters and other features without the need for special units, Arnold says. Homeowners can create outdoor seating similar to commercial stadium seating, albeit on a smaller scale, with a curved, couch-like seating area, for example.

Retaining walls can also be purposed as offset stairs, patio landings or seat walls. One Minnesota homeowner, who nicknamed her un-mow-able backyard "Billy Goat Hill,” installed retaining walls to gain safe access to her garden.

“The pinned system provides a high ratio of weight per square foot of wall face, plus extreme flexibility in design, says Paul Devine, owner of Devine Design Landscapes in Rosemont, Minn., who headed up the project. “Back-locking lip walls are not as structurally sound as a pinned system, and hollow blocks do not provide the stability required for large tiered walls.”

Retaining walls can extend beyond the backyard, as well. Homeowners can install them as driveway barriers to protect their lawns, as a tiered arrangement to address slope issues, or at property lines to prevent unwanted traffic.

Source: VERSA-LOK

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Home Loan Closing Timeline Averages 50 Days

February 23, 2016 2:01 am

Recently effective regulation has impacted the real estate transaction timeline, extending the time needed to close a loan to an average of 50 days, according to a recent Ellie Mae® report. For homebuyers and sellers, this underscores the need for a real estate professional well versed in the loan process.

“We continue to see the time to close lengthen month over month, now reaching 50 days, which is up four days since TRID [regulation] went into effect,” says Jonathan Corr, president and CEO of Ellie Mae.

The Ellie Mae report shows:

- The average time to close a conventional loan is 49 days.
- The average time to close a purchase loan is 51 days.
- The average time to close a refinance loan is 48 days.
- The average time to close a FHA loan is 51 days.
- The average time to close a VA loan is 53 days.

Ellie Mae data also show that the average FICO credit score on closed loans is decreasing, down recently to 719 from 722. The average FHA refinance FICO score declined, as well, down to 645 from 651.

Source: Ellie Mae

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Report: Data Privacy Upstages Lost Income Concerns

February 22, 2016 1:58 am

A sign of the times? For many Americans, losing income pales in comparison to a breach in personal data privacy, according to a recent analysis by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). Data privacy concerns also outrank concerns regarding healthcare, crime and climate change.

“Consumers are increasingly aware, interested and concerned about their privacy and they’re acting on it,” says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the NCSA. “However, if Internet users knew more, they would do more. [Our] research points to an awareness-action shortfall that belies a growing confidence in Americans’ personal ability to protect their online data.”

This shortfall is reflected in the following findings:

• Sixty percent of Americans included in the research are aware they can delete their cookies, cache or browsing history; 53 percent actually do.

• Forty-three percent are aware they can turn off smartphone location tracking; 29 percent actually do.

• Forty-three percent are aware they can change the privacy settings on their social media accounts; 24 percent actually do.

• Thirty-three percent are aware they can read privacy policies; 16 percent actually do.

This privacy awareness deficit has done little to quell concerns, according to the analysis. In fact, 92 percent of Americans participating in the research worry to some extent about their online privacy; 44 percent are “always” or “frequently” concerned. What’s more, 46 percent feel they have no control over the personal information they’ve provided on the Internet.

“As the vast amounts of data being collected, exchanged and stored online increases, NCSA urges all digital citizens to own their online presence and manage their privacy,” says Kaiser. “We encourage consumers to use available tools and take actionable steps to manage their privacy, such as limiting access on social media, keeping all apps, software and devices updated and understanding that their personal information—just like money—has great value and thus, should be protected.”

Markedly, nearly three-quarters of Americans cited in the analysis have gone so far as to limit their online activity due to privacy concerns.

Source: National Cyber Security Alliance

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Stuck on the Sidelines? Home Affordability on the Rise

February 22, 2016 1:58 am

Are financial constraints hindering your ability to purchase a home? 2016 may be your year. Affordability is on the rise, according to a recent report by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)—in fact, 63.3 percent of new and existing homes sold at the end of last year were affordable to families earning $65,800, the national median income.

“The signs point to continuing growth in home sales,” says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “We’ve seen an improvement in affordability due to favorable home prices and interest rates. Steady employment and economic growth, along with rising consumer confidence and pent-up demand will also help encourage more buyers to enter the marketplace.”

“Affordable home prices, attractive mortgage rates, and pent-up demand are keeping the housing market on a gradual, upward path,” adds NAHB Chairman Ed Brady, a home builder and developer from Bloomington, Ill.

On a national scale, the median home price fell at the end of the year, down to $226,000 from $231,000, according to the NAHB report. Average mortgage rates also declined in that same period. Based on findings from the report, the most affordable markets are concentrated in the East North Central, Middle Atlantic and South Atlantic regions.

Source: NAHB

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6 Ideas for Pinterest-Worthy Home Décor

February 22, 2016 1:58 am

Housing millions of images and thousands more each second, Pinterest is a playground for those seeking inspiration. Which home décor trends will make a splash on Pinterest feeds this year? Interior designer Taniya Nayak, of HGTV and Food Network fame, points to six major décor movements:

1. Digitally Defined – “Geometric shapes and angles have become associated with technology; this evokes creativity and innovative design because they're edgy and create movement,” says Nayak.

One way to incorporate this trend within a space is using geometric floor tiles in different colors. The edginess of the tile with the mix of color will keep your eye constantly moving. Geometric shapes alone, like in a light fixture with lots of edges, will also create a dramatic and stunning statement.

You can also incorporate this trend with “pixilation” for a modern and clean look. Pixelated artwork made up of monochromatic cubes can be simplistic and fit in a variety of spaces.

2. Fresh and Fab – “Fun saturated colors, such as yellow and blue, produce an energetic and happy feeling,” Nayak says. “Let your imagination run wild and paint a bold accent wall for an eye-catching statement, or paint an antiqued piece of furniture a bright color for an unexpected combination of modern and traditional elements.”

Multiple bright colors mixed together create a crisp and fresh interior and elevate the mood in any space. Incorporating flowers and fruit is also a great way to enhance a space with color and aromas, instantly revitalizing a room.

3. Nature's Patterns – Lend a sense of cleanliness without sacrificing detail with simple designs inspired by nature. These patterns are organic and include shapes such as honeycombs, florals and leaves.

“When honing in on the details found in these elements, it's easy to see there are countless designs created,” says Nayak. “Pair these with neutral colors that have warm or cool tones for a soothing atmosphere, or blow them up and paint them in a bright color for a bold statement.”

You can also integrate natural patterns through accent pieces, such as reflective light fixtures to mimic sparkling water or a textured jute rug.

4. Presswork Palette – Personalize any space by incorporating text—think monograms, family names or inspirational quotes. Adding an uplifting quote or message to a room, whether on a small pillow or large piece of subway art, will create a positive atmosphere and generate conversation. Text can be placed anywhere throughout the home.

“Have fun by playing around with various fonts and sizes to create different moods throughout each room,” Nayak says. “Letters can be sharp and defined to create a contemporary and stylish aesthetic, or soft and casual to give life to a space so it feels elegant and timeless.”

5. Textured Terrain – Forget smooth finishes. From transformed wood pallets to worn leather or tin ceilings, raw materials that are aged offer a great deal of texture and help give a space dimension.

“A great way to make a raw material feel beautiful is by incorporating it into an application you would not typically think to use the material,” says Nayak. “For example, utilizing concrete on a wall instead of the floor will create a clean and raw space that will reflect simplicity and unity.”

6. Well-Traveled Style – Incorporate global influences with vibrant colors and exotic textiles through painting, wall décor or accessories. A parade of patterns from different cultures can feel modern and fresh when used together.

“Don't be afraid to mix multiple prints within a space; having a variety of patterned pillows, rugs and wall décor is a great idea,” Nayak says. “Make sure to tie these patterns together by carrying a similar color throughout each element in the room.”

Whichever trend you choose to implement in your home, keep your unique style at the forefront, Nayak adds. After all, Pinterest is about personalization!

“When trying a new trend, make sure it accurately represents your style—and remember, you don’t have to go all out. Any of these trends can be incorporated into your home as little or as much as you'd like through pillows, accents, rugs and paint.”

Source: ShurTech Brands, LLC

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Save or Spend? 5 Ways to Make Your Tax Refund Count

February 19, 2016 1:52 am

Taxpayers averaged $3,000 refunds from the IRS last year, and more than 70 percent expect a refund this year. If you’re awaiting a refund, plan now to make the most of this year’s windfall, says Corey Carlisle, executive director of the American Bankers Association (ABA) Foundation.

“Tax season is a great time for consumers to reassess how they allocate extra cash,” Carlisle says. “It’s wise to take steps toward securing your financial well-being, like storing your refund for rainy days or using it to get a jumpstart on saving for retirement.”

Carlisle and the ABA recommend:
 
1. Saving for Emergencies – Open or add to a high-yield savings account that serves as an “emergency fund.” Ideally, it should hold about 3-6 months of living expenses in case of sudden financial hardships, like losing your job or having to replace your car.

2. Paying Off Debt – Pay down existing balances either by chipping away at loans with the highest interest rates or eliminating smaller debt first.
 
3. Saving for Retirement – Open or increase contributions to a tax-deferred savings plan like a 401(k) or an IRA. Your bank can help set up an IRA, while a 401(k) is employer-sponsored.

4. Putting It Toward a Down Payment – The biggest challenge that most first-time homebuyers face is coming up with enough money for a down payment. If you intend to buy a new home in the near future, putting your tax refund toward the down payment is a smart move.

5. Investing in Your Home – Use your refund to invest in home improvements that will increase the value of your home. This can include small, cost-effective upgrades, like energy-efficient appliances that will pay off in both the short and long term. If you have more substantial renovations in mind, your bank can help with a home equity line of credit.

Source: ABA

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15 Safety Tips when the Power’s Out

February 19, 2016 1:52 am

Severe storm conditions may threaten structural damage to your home, but they can also result in electrical hazards. These dangers are most often associated with the use of portable generators and space heaters, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), and may exist long after the storm has ended if a power outage occurs.

When operating a portable generator, keep in mind these tips: 

• Do not operate a portable generator in your home, basement, or garage. Generators can very quickly produce high levels of carbon monoxide, which can be deadly. 

• Be sure the generator is used with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to help prevent electrocutions and electrical shock injuries. 

• Do not connect generators directly to the household wiring without an appropriate transfer switch installed. The power from the generator can back-feed along power lines and harm anyone who comes into contact with them, including utility line workers making repairs.  

• Make sure there is at least one working carbon monoxide detector in your home. Test the batteries at least twice a year, at the same time smoke detector batteries are tested.

When operating a space heater, keep in mind these tips: 

• Make sure your space heater has the label showing that it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory. 

• Before using any space heater, read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels carefully. 

• Inspect space heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, do not use the heater. 

• Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you're leaving a room or going to sleep, and don't let pets or children play too close to a space heater. 

• Space heaters are only meant to provide supplemental heat and should never be used to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing or thaw pipes. 

• Proper placement of space heaters is critical. Heaters must be kept at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including papers, clothing and rugs. 

• Place space heaters on level, flat surfaces. Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or carpet, which can overheat and start a fire. 

• Place space heaters out of high traffic areas and doorways, where they may pose a tripping hazard. 

• Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which could overheat and result in a fire. 

• Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater. 

• Always unplug and safely store the heater when it is not in use. 

Source: ESFI

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How Paint Colors Set the Tone—and Mood—of Your Home

February 19, 2016 1:52 am

Repainting a room in your home? Don't overlook the psychological impact of color. Studies have shown that different hues create different moods, and can even affect behavior, says Debbie Zimmer, paint and color expert at the Paint Quality Institute.

"There are lots of good reasons to select a particular paint color, including personal preferences and design considerations, but often overlooked is the psychological power certain colors exert on mood, attitude, and outlook," says Zimmer.

"Even before you go to the paint store or start to look at color cards, think about the mood you'd like in your surroundings," continues Zimmer. "Do you want the space to be relaxing or invigorating? Once you make that decision, the color choice becomes easier.”

If your goal is to create a tranquil space, then look for a soft green or pale blue. These are the most calming colors, so they're ideal for rooms where you rest and relax, such as the family room or bedroom.

Other go-to colors for rooms where you rest include certain beiges, browns, and taupe. More enveloping than blues and greens, these quiet tints and shades impart warmth and coziness to a space.  

At the other end of the psychological spectrum are paint colors that can inject energy into your surroundings. Yellow is the best example. Like a splash of sunshine, yellow walls can lift the spirit and brighten your outlook. What better color to use in a kitchen or breakfast area where you start the day?

Shades of orange—tangerine and apricot, for example—are also energizing, so they too are good choices for rooms where you spend your mornings.

Reds are energizing, too, but they need to be used sparingly, since their bold appearance can literally increase heartbeat. But if you're seeking a great dining room color, look no further: studies show red can actually increase appetite, which is why it is used in so many restaurants. 

Aside from the color of the paint you choose, keep in mind that tone also plays a role in setting the mood. Brighter tones invigorate, while those that are muted ("toned down") tend to be more relaxing.

After choosing the perfect color, make sure it continues to look just so by applying the highest quality paint. Products that are 100 percent acrylic resist fading, so the color you apply is the color you'll continue to enjoy for years to come, says Zimmer.

Source: Paint Quality Institute

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Remodeling Spending to Surpass Pre-Recession Level

February 18, 2016 1:52 am

Home improvement spending will increase as 2016 moves forward, up to 7.6 percent before the year’s out, suggests the latest Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA), recently released by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“2016 is looking to be a stronger year for home renovation activity compared to 2015 thanks to the continued recovery in the owner-occupied housing market,” says Chris Herbert, managing director of the Joint Center. “In most markets across the country, rising house prices are bringing more homes to the market and increasing sales, which is a large driver of home improvement activity.”

The LIRA projects that by the third quarter of 2016, the level of annual spending in nominal terms will surpass the previous peak set in 2006.

“The remodeling market has steadily improved in recent years with homeowners incorporating larger, more discretionary projects into their home improvement priorities,” adds Abbe Will, a research analyst in the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center.

Source: Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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