RE/MAX 440
Susanne Porter ABR, CRS, GRI
SuePorteratREMAX@aol.com
Susanne Porter ABR, CRS, GRI
440 South West End Blvd, RT 309
Quakertown  PA 18951
PH: 267-261-4608
O: 215-538-4400
C: 267-261-4608
F: 267-354-6883 
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How to Choose a Remodeling Contractor

February 2, 2015 1:18 am

(BPT) – Trusting a contractor with both your home and money can feel overwhelming. Spare yourself time, expenses and sanity by following these steps for choosing the best remodeling contractor.

1. Decide what you want out of your newly remodeled home. Start thinking about goals, amenities and a rough timeline, making sure you can clearly articulate your ideas to a contractor. Idea centers such as Houzz.com can serve as inspiration for kick-starting your remodeling project. This phase is also ideal for researching sustainable building products. By using green products, homeowners save money on heating and cooling costs, and builders can decrease the construction's carbon footprint.

2. Ask for advice. You're not the first person to remodel your home, so don't go through the process alone. Talk to friends, relatives, neighbors and coworkers about their remodeling experiences. In addition to collecting referrals, ask targeted questions about how those contractors communicated throughout the process and mitigated any setbacks. If you know a building inspector, ask which contractors regularly meet code requirements.

3. Research and contact businesses. Start gathering information on your referrals and local prospects by visiting their websites or making phone calls. Make sure these remodeling contractors have the required licenses, liability insurance and ability to obtain local permits for your project. Most will also tell you if they belong to a professional association such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry or National Association of Homebuilders. The Better Business Bureau also issues warnings about those that might not be trustworthy. Through your research, select three to five potential contractors.

4. Set up meetings with contractors.
After identifying your top candidates, schedule face-to-face meetings with each to discuss your project. Ask questions and make sure communication is fluid and straight-forward. How many projects does the contractor handle at one time? Are his or her past projects similar in scope to yours? If you find a particular meeting goes especially well, ask for references and a bid on your project.

5. Compare bids and references. Think of this step as putting the finishing touches on your selection process. When contacting references, ask them to rate their satisfaction with the project. Did the contractor meet time and budget requirements? As soon as the bids come in, look at the cost breakdown of labor and building materials. The best contractor is not always the cheapest. Now's the time to find out if a contractor uses the best quality products that meet your budget.

6. Choose your contractor and sign a contract. With all of your research on hand, select the best contractor for your project. After confirming with the contractor, draw up a contract that includes a description of the work, products to be used, cost and completion dates and let the project begin.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Keep Food Items Safe during Power Outages

January 30, 2015 1:03 am

Power outages can happen at any time. Aside from the discomfort of living without electricity, refrigerated or frozen food items may spoil if power is out for a number of days. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends taking the following precautions when an outage occurs.
  • Use a refrigerator and freezer thermometer. Check before an outage to ensure that the refrigerator temperature is at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer is at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Know where you can get dry or block ice. Make ice cubes and freeze containers of water or gel packs to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers. Keep coolers on hand to store refrigerated food if the power will be out for more than 4 hours.
  • Freeze refrigerated items that you may not need immediately and group food together in the freezer.
  • Stock your pantry with a few days worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or refrigeration.
  • When the power does go out, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours, and a full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if unopened.
  • When power is restored, check the temperatures inside your refrigerator and freezer before consuming any food.
  • If the power was out for no more than 4 hours, refrigerated food should be safe as long as the doors were kept closed. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours or more.
  • If the freezer thermometer reads 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, food is safe and may be refrozen. If you did not have a thermometer in the freezer, check each package to determine its safety; you can't rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals, it is safe to refreeze or cook. Be aware that perishable foods that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause foodborne illness if consumed, even after they are thoroughly cooked.
Source: FDA.gov

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Staged Homes Can Sell for a Higher Price

January 30, 2015 1:03 am

Are you listing your home this year? Better call a stager, says the National Association of REALTORS®. According to NAR’s 2015 Profile of Home Staging, REALTORS® believe that buyers offer between 1 and 5 percent more for a home that’s staged. That percentage, some Realtors® believe, can be up to 10 percent.

Nearly half of surveyed REALTORS® who work with buyers believe staging usually has an effect on the buyer’s view of the home. Staging, they report, makes an impact by helping buyers visualize the property as a future home (81 percent), and by making buyers more willing to walk through a home they saw online (46 percent).

Just over a third of REALTORS® on the seller’s side (34 percent) utilize staging on all homes – the majority utilizes staging as a tool in at least some instances.



The median cost spent on staging a home is $675. Sixty-two percent of REALTORS® representing the seller offer home staging services to their clients, while 39 percent say the seller pays before listing the home. REALTORS® on both the buyer and seller sides agreed that the living room is the most important room to stage, followed by the kitchen, master bedroom, dining room and bathroom.

Source: NAR

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Avoid Unclaimed Refunds This Tax Season

January 30, 2015 1:03 am

Toward the end of last year's tax filing deadline, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that more than $760 million in unclaimed refunds would disappear after April 15 – so many dollar bills that, if stacked, they would reach higher than 187 Empire State Buildings! A larger portion of this missed opportunity comes from failing to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

"One in four people who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit should be getting up to $6,143 in additional tax refunds, but they miss out because it's complicated to tell if you qualify," said David Prokupek, CEO of Jackson Hewitt®.

One-third of the EITC-eligible population changes each year based on marital, parental and financial status, and many Americans may not know they qualify for this credit. The IRS allows these individuals to catch up, offering a three-year window for filing federal tax returns.

To claim the EITC, taxpayers must be employed or self-employed and have a Social Security number. They will need to show proof of having less than $3,350 in investment income and have earned income and adjusted gross income lower than the following:



Single, Head of Household, Qualifying Widow(er)

No Children - $14,590

1 Child - $38,511

2 Children - $43,756

3 Children - $46,997



Married Filing Jointly

No Children - $20,020

1 Child - $43,941
2 Children - $49,186

3 Children - $52,427

For example, a married couple filing jointly with three children and a combined earned income of $23,000 could qualify for the maximum EITC of $6,143. If the couple overlooked the EITC the past three years, they possibly could claim thousands of dollars more for each year for a total refund approaching half their annual income.

Source: Jackson Hewitt®

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Your Vehicle: To Idle or Not to Idle

January 29, 2015 1:00 am

It’s that time of the year when many motorists let their vehicle "warm up,” or idle, before driving. Did you know that today’s cars are ready to drive in cold temperatures without excessive idling?

"Unless you are trying to defrost the windshield or warm the interior of your car, idling is not required for today's vehicles," says Rich White, Car Care Council. "In most cases, idling longer than 30 seconds is unnecessary. The best way to warm up your car's engine is to drive gently at the start. Remember, a vehicle gets zero miles per gallon when idling and the result is lower fuel economy and wasted money."

The EPA cautions that idling your car longer than 30 seconds increases air pollution, wastes fuel and siphons your gas dollars. It can also lead to engine damage and create issues with cylinders, spark plugs and the exhaust system.

The idea of idling before driving dates back to when cars were built with carburetors. With new fuel-injection technology, complex computer systems and thinner synthetic oils, drivers don't need to warm up their cars before hitting the road.

Source: Car Care Council

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Home Buying Tips for New Parents

January 29, 2015 1:00 am

Many expectant parents upgrade to larger homes when baby’s on the way. If you’re thinking of buying a new home to accommodate your growing family, it’s important to assess certain factors you may not consider otherwise, including:

Master Bedroom Proximity – Is the master bedroom on a separate floor from the others? Will you want to be adjacent to your baby’s nursery, or are you comfortable with sleeping down the hall? Always consider the layout of the bedrooms before buying.

Pool Safety – If you’re seeking a home with a pool, keep in mind that your child will likely venture outside before he or she knows how to swim. Is the pool appropriately gated, with no holes or gaps in fencing? Are all latches and locks in proper working order? Is the door leading outside secure?

Property Hazards – Evaluate the home for any potential dangers, including stairs, tree roots or uneven pavers. These can be easily overlooked by a curious child and lead to unnecessary injury.

Street Location – Take into account how far your home is from a busy area. Is the home located on a congested street? What is the posted speed limit in the area and how fast do cars typically drive through the neighborhood? Are there streetlights and crosswalks nearby?

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Understanding the Most Important Mortgage Documents

January 29, 2015 1:00 am

Obtaining a mortgage for your first home can be a daunting task, especially when you consider the amount of paperwork required. Though your lender should explain all of the steps in the loan process clearly, it’s wise to have a basic understanding of the most important mortgage documents you’ll be signing.

Promissory Note
Contrary to popular belief, the promissory note is your actual mortgage contract, spelling out all terms associated with the loan – interest rate, payment intervals and more. The promissory note will also include a provision that states what will happen in the event that you do not repay the loan.

Settlement Statement
Also known as “the HUD,” the settlement statement spells out line-item fees, such as real estate agent, lender and title fees, prorated items like prepaid homeowners insurance and inspection costs or association dues.

Deed of Trust
The security provision in the promissory note will point to the deed of trust, which supports the lender’s claim to your property should you fall short on payments. The deed of trust also indicates specific occupancy policies associated with your specific mortgage, such as move-in date and second home use.

Source: Zillow

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Flood Insurance: Your Property's Safety Net

January 28, 2015 1:00 am

Floods are a year-round hazard, even in cold weather. According to FEMA, it’s important to understand the unique flood risks associated with winter and prepare an emergency plan well in advance of any snowstorm and subsequent flooding.

Many homeowners mistakenly believe that their insurance policy covers flooding, but only flood insurance financially protects properties from damage. It typically takes 30 days for a new flood insurance policy to take effect, so residents should not wait for a storm to strike before purchasing coverage. It only takes a few inches of water in a home or business to cause thousands of dollars of damage – between 2006 and 2010, the average flood claim was nearly $34,000!

While no one wants a flood to impact their home, federally-backed flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) offers a financial safety net to help cover repair or replacement costs.

If your home has experienced flooding, file a claim by contacting your insurance agent, documenting your damaged property and filing a Proof of Loss form within 60 days of the flood. Keep in mind as you go through this process that you do not need to wait for a Presidential Disaster Declaration to file a flood claim, and your policy cannot be canceled for making a claim.

Source: Ready.gov

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Easiest Home Fixes with the Most ROI

January 28, 2015 1:00 am

Whether you’re planning to sell your home, or you simply want a more updated look, there are any number of cheap, simple fixes, from new paint to new curtains, that will improve its overall appearance. But, said home contractor Scott McGillivray, host of HGTV’s Income Property, these seven relatively inexpensive fixes can give you more return on investment (ROI) than many – both in terms of home improvement value and easy-on-the-eye enhancement you can enjoy.

Start with these, McGillvray blogged:

Kitchen hardware – Today’s drawer and cabinet pulls come in dozens of styles and finishes. Installing a style that appeals to you can immediately make a dated kitchen look more modern and functional.

Refinished hardwood deck – An attractive deck is high on the list of improvements with proven ROI – especially if the deck is more than 100 square feet in size.

Heated floors and towel racks
– In cold weather regions, heated tile floors and/or heated towel racks in the bathroom can add a surprising amount of value – especially is there is no other heat source in the room.

Chic moldings - One of the easiest ways to get a high-end look at a reasonable price is with applied moldings on living room and dining room baseboards and ceilings.

New front door – Dollar for dollar, a new front door delivers a terrific ROI – as are other exterior updates like new windows and siding, which are highly appealing to future buyers looking for security and insulation.

Garage storage
– Shelves, organizers, and work benches in the garage can make any homeowner’s life easier. No need for custom work. You’ll find all you need at home improvement stores.

Neatness counts
– Nothing ensures curb appeal and improves a home value more than thorough and consistent maintenance, McGillvray said. So mow the lawns, clean the gutters, and keep the windows clean.

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3 Tips for Retiring Out of State

January 28, 2015 1:00 am

Retirees flock to Florida and Arizona for year-round sunshine and golf, but all things considered, they’re not the best states for happy golden years, according to a new survey.

Along with average number of sunny days, factor in cost of living, residents’ sense of well-being, quality of health-care, crime and, yes, humidity, and the best destination is (surprise!) South Dakota, according to a 2014 Bankrate report.

“As this report correctly suggests, pre-retirees need to consider a lot more than snow days and tradition,” says Rodger Friedman, founding partner and wealth manager at Steward Partners Global Advisory and author of “Forging Bonds of Steel,” a guide to developing an excellent working relationship with your financial advisor.

“Different states have different tax laws and other regulations that can have a major impact on your retirement funds. You need to be aware of these as you plan for where you want to live and how you want to live.”

Whether you’re considering one of the other top four “best states to retire” – Colorado, Utah, North Dakota and Wyoming, in that order – here are five tips for planning ahead:
  • New state – new income tax rules. Get to know them! Familiarize yourself with the tax laws of the state you’re considering for your new home. Two of the top five on Bankrate’s list – South Dakota and Wyoming -- have no state income tax, along with five others: Nevada (No. 18 on the list), Texas (19), Washington (22), Florida (39), and Alaska (48.).
Also, an itemized deduction in one state may not be an itemized deduction in another. If you use the long form (1040) to file federal income taxes, hire a reputable, experienced CPA for guidance.

Look into how your new state taxes retirement income. States differ on taxing interest income from tax-free municipal bonds. Some states give tax credits; treat public and private pensions differently; or offer federal, military or blanket exclusions.

The following states are community property states: Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, California, Arizona, Wisconsin, Nevada, Louisiana, and Washington. Speaking with an estate planning attorney regarding how this issue may affect you may be money very well spent.
  • If you’re married, are you moving to a community property state? There are nine community property states – those that divide all martially-acquired assets and debt 50:50 in the event of divorce. (Exceptions include an inheritance or gift received by one spouse and maintained separately in that spouse’s name.) Community property states are Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, California, Arizona, Wisconsin, Nevada, Louisiana, and Washington. Speaking with an estate planning attorney regarding how this issue may affect you may be money very well spent.
  • Have a lawyer review your estate planning documents. Your existing estate planning documents should be reviewed by a lawyer in your new state of residence because statutes differ on the types of documents required and the powers bestowed upon each. For example, states are all over the map regarding the validity of a power of attorney document and the powers that may or may not be conveyed.
“During their careers, their acquiring wealth years, many people live in places that have lots of jobs – and the higher cost of living that goes along with that,” Friedman says. “In retirement, many they want to move to a state where they can enjoy the same or an even better lifestyle with less money.

“For that, it’s essential to consider not only the cost of living but the state laws that affect your accumulated wealth and income.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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