June Croissette
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RE/MAX 440   June Croissette
440 South West End Blvd, RT 309  Quakertown, PA  18951
Office Phone: 215-538-4400    Phone: 215-538-4400 Ext. 1210  Fax: 267-354-6834  Cell: 215-872-4966
jcroissette@remax440.com

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Garden Detective: Clues to Determine and Deter Unwanted Animals in Your Yard and Garden

May 7, 2013 1:08 am

Holmes and Watson, Riggs and Murtaugh, Starsky and Hutch—when it comes to sleuthing out just what critter is munching on your spring garden, you may feel like your partnership with Mother Nature is as contentious as any that ever graced the big, or small screen. After all, how are you supposed to fight the "crime" of a decimated garden if you can't identify the suspect who's been devouring your daylilies?

And while Mother Nature may happily grace your garden with rain, warmth and sunshine, she may not always be on the same team when it comes to keeping critters out of your gardens and landscapes. Foraging pests can destroy your yard literally overnight.

It is possible to thwart garden thieves, but first you have to know what animals have been dining on your plants and shrubs. Once you've identified the culprits, you can settle on effective animal repellents that will persuade pests to leave your garden alone. Here are some facts to get your detective work under way:

Devouring deer - Ragged bites, typically a foot or more above the ground indicate deer damage. Deer are notorious for devouring gardens and landscapes. You'll see them, and their offspring, every year, making dinner of your daisies, daylilies and other ornamental plants.

Ravenous rabbits - If plant damage is low to the ground—a few inches above the soil—and includes stems clipped cleanly at an angle, you're probably dealing with rabbits. These four-legged foragers will eat just about any kind of vegetation, including your fabulous flowers, bushes and other woody plants. If you don't want bunnies nesting and raising families near your garden, remove brush and other debris that could provide them with shelter.

Voracious voles - When flower bulbs disappear from the ground or plant roots go missing, chances are you have voles—mouse-like creatures that burrow underground and that are highly destructive to gardens. Exit holes are further indications that voles are tunneling under your garden. Teeth marks around the base of trees, droppings or trails in the grass can also indicate the presence of voles.

Greedy groundhogs - Mounds of dirt beside burrow entrances are a sure sign of groundhogs, a garden pest that eats just about every type of green plant. Groundhogs can destroy a garden. These solitary herbivores live in burrows underground.

Once you've identified the culprits assaulting your garden, you'll need the right tools to take care of them. Most traditional pest-control measures—row covers, netting, noise deterrents, predator urine or even human hair strewn around the yard—simply don't work. Fences can do the job, but they're expensive and you may live in a community that restricts the type and height of fences you can erect.

Some small animal repellents, however, do work. Bobbex-R is all-natural, environmentally friendly and proven effective at protecting ornamental plantings from small, four-legged garden critters. In testing by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the product—which works through smell and taste aversion—received a 100 percent efficacy rating at repelling rabbits. Usable in any weather, it won't burn plants or wash off. Use it as a bulb dip to deter underground damage, or spray it at the mouth of burrows to prevent animals from re-entering. It’s safe for humans, pets, birds and aquatic life, too.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Multifamily Industry Launches New "Apartments. We Live Here." Campaign

May 7, 2013 1:08 am

The National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) and the National Apartment Association (NAA) today unveiled a new integrated campaign titled "Apartments. We Live Here." The campaign tells the story about how in communities across the country, apartments work—helping people live in a home that's right for them. Whether it's young professionals starting out, empty nesters looking to downsize and simplify, workers wanting to live near their jobs, married couples without children or families building a better life, apartment homes provide a sensible choice to meet their specific housing needs.

Utilizing print, radio and digital ads, direct mail and a new, experimental info-driven experience at www.weareapartments.org, the campaign highlights the 35 million apartment residents building their lives and the $1.1 trillion economic contribution the industry and its residents add to the economy each year.

"'Apartments. We Live Here.' is about connecting policymakers all across the country not only with the dollars and jobs associated with multifamily construction and operations, but with the millions who call an apartment home," said Kim Duty, NMHC Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Industry Initiatives. "Communities are stronger when they have a mix of housing, and that includes apartments."

"Our population is changing and we need housing options like apartments to keep up. In 1955, married couples with children made up 44 percent of America, but today they're only 20 percent. The fastest growing groups over the next decade will be young adults and empty nesters—those who may find apartments a good fit. We need more housing choices for America, which is what the 'Apartments. We Live Here.' campaign is all about," said Greg Brown, NAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.

The advertisements serve as a window into the home of apartment residents by highlighting their personality through snapshots of their daily lives. The first wave of the campaign will begin in Washington, D.C. on May 6.

The ads and additional campaign information can be found at http://weareapartments.org/about-campaign.

Sources: NMHC, NAA

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Tips to Ease First-Time Homebuyer Jitters

May 6, 2013 1:08 am

Traditionally, spring marks a busy period of time for housing market activity. With the heat of summer seemingly only weeks away, first-time homebuyers should learn strategies for finding their ideal home while keeping financial priorities in check. Buying a home can be the largest and most important financial decision one can make, so it is important to be aware of all the factors that go into making a responsible purchasing decision.

The first step is figuring out how much you can afford to spend on homeownership, which means an honest assessment of the household balance sheet. Once you have a clear idea of where you stand financially, you can then make a responsible decision of what you can afford, including your down payment, monthly mortgage costs and other expenses like utility costs, property insurance and taxes.

Here are a few tips:

Making an affordability assessment
Housing costs, including mortgage payments, property insurance and taxes, should not take up more than one-third of your income. In addition to this, servicing your overall debt, including loans, utilities, credit card payments and lines of credit, should not account for more than 40 percent. If you can land safely within these parameters, then homeownership is an affordable and realistic option.

Coming up with the down payment
In general, the bigger the down payment you come up with, the less interest you'll pay over the life of your mortgage. Financial institutions may offer special accounts designed to help you save for that first home. Consider opening a savings account specifically to fund your down payment. One easy way to save is to set up an automatic monthly deposit from your checking account to your savings account, allowing you to build the balance over time.

Choosing the right mortgage for you
Your mortgage needs to fit in with the rest of your financial priorities -- which could mean increased flexibility or security. Consider the following when choosing your mortgage:

• Choose a shorter amortization period - In general, the shorter the life of the mortgage, the lower the overall interest cost. Consider choosing a 20-year amortization rather than a 30-year amortization to save you money on interest costs and help you become debt-free sooner.

• Fixed vs. variable - Variable-rate mortgages have been a winning strategy over the long term, but fixed rate mortgages (currently at historic lows) provide cost certainty and peace of mind.

• Stress-test your mortgage payments - Use a mortgage payment based on a higher rate to stress-test your budget; total housing costs (mortgage payments, property taxes and insurance, etc.) should not consume more than one-third of household income.

Applying for pre-approval
A pre-approval establishes the amount you can reasonably afford to borrow towards the purchase of your first home. Consider the following benefits to getting pre-approved:

• Have a good idea of your finances - You will receive a better idea of how much you are qualified to borrow, saving time looking at homes that meet your affordability range. Your term and amortization, as well as estimated monthly payments, are provided at approval so you can use these figures when planning your overall budget.

• Moving quickly - If you are pre-approved for a mortgage, you'll be able to move quickly to make an offer when you finally find the perfect home for you.

Source: BMO Harris

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Spring Season Raises Growing Concerns for Deck Collapses

May 6, 2013 1:08 am

Spring is synonymous with deck season and barbecuing, but is also the time of year when the majority of deck collapses occur. There is also a heightened risk of deck failures in areas that get a considerable amount of winter moisture, and freeze and thaw weather.

An improperly built or deteriorating deck can cause unnecessary and often serious injuries, even death. Between 2003 and 2007, deck failures or collapses caused close to 35,000 injuries and several deaths in North America. With over 40 million decks and patios in North America over 20 years old, there is a significant safety concern as collapses have been increasing at an alarming rate, causing injuries and property damage.

"The reasons behind a deck collapse can range from the age of the deck, to poor maintenance, exceeding load capacity and poorly built systems," said Tory Weber, CEO of SigmaDek. "We see homeowners who put a hot tub on the deck, fill it with thousands of pounds of water, then add eight people to it, and never do an inspection first."

The North America Deck and Railing Association shares tips for consumers to consider before deck season. They should look for:

• Split and decaying wood: This includes ledger board, support posts, joists, deck boards, railings and stairs.
• Sound flashing: Flashing is a metal or plastic guard that directs water out and away from sensitive areas. It's often installed where the deck and house come together, keeping moisture and debris from collecting between the house and the deck's ledger board.
• Loose or corroded fasteners: This includes nails, screws or anchor in the ledger board.
• All railings and banisters are secure.
• Stairs are in place and secure.
• Any source of fire is placed well away from flammable surfaces.

Source: SigmaDek

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Mortgage Rates at or Near All-Time Record Low

May 6, 2013 1:08 am

Freddie Mac released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates moving lower for the fourth consecutive week continuing to support the ongoing housing recovery. The 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage hit a new all-time record low at 2.61 percent for the week, as did the 5-year ARM at 2.58 percent. The previous record low for the 15-year fixed was 2.63 percent set the week of November 21, 2012.

Notable Highlights

• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.40 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending April 25, 2013, down from last week when it averaged 3.41 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.88 percent.

• 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.61 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.64 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.12 percent.

• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.58 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.60 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.85 percent.

• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.62 percent this week with an average 0.3 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.63 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.74 percent.

"The housing market is getting a boost with mortgage rates hovering at or near record lows. For instance, existing home sales averaged an annualized pace of 4.94 million over the first three months of this year, the most since the fourth quarter of 2009,” says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. “More impressively, new home sales topped 424,000 during the first quarter, which was the strongest since the third quarter of 2008. The sales pickup is helping to support house-price gains. For instance, the Federal Housing Finance Agency reported that February marked the thirteenth consecutive month that it has recorded an annual rise in its U.S. house price index, which rose by 7.1 percent in the twelve months through February, the most since May 2006. Even with these gains, this U.S. index is still 13.6 percent below its peak set in April 2007."

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Aging in Place? These Kitchen Design Trends Are Really Hot

May 3, 2013 1:06 am

As more homeowners are making the commitment to aging in place, I continue to seek out new resources to help folks with ways to transition their homes for the “'extended stay.” So it was great to discover aging in place expert Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS (www.mjpdesign.com), a relatively close neighbor from Connecticut. She noted that design trends toward more open spaces and generous daylight have forced designers to use fewer wall cabinets and the response from consumers is tremendous.

Peterson also points out that more renovations include placing appliances at comfortable heights. Peterson says she used to be a lonely voice encouraging splitting double ovens so each might be placed at a more accessible height, but today, clients are asking for them.

She says beware, however, because this is one of those Universal Design concepts that only works when it fits into the design.

Another source, Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Charlie Hudson of Hudson Remodeling in Lynden, WA offers these aging-in-place/universal-design tips:

• Install bath and shower grab bars. When properly installed, grab bars are effective in helping prevent slips and falls. Typically, they are the first item people turn to when looking to improve bathroom safety.

• Replace a traditional tub with a walk-in shower unit. Wonderful step-free shower units can be created in the same space currently used for a bathtub. Walk-in showers can be installed as prefabricated units or as a custom project using materials like tile and glass.

• Consider remodeling to add a ground floor master suite. This type of remodel not only allows seniors to stay in their own home as long as possible, it can also help those recovering from injury or illness.

• In the kitchen, relocate (or raise) the level of your dishwasher to make loading/unloading easier; install pull-out shelves in lower cabinets for easier access.

• Change hardware throughout the house; using levers or “D” pulls can make it easier for all abilities to open and close doors and cabinets.

• Install handrails along interior and exterior staircases; make sure those areas are well lit as well.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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A Seller's Guide to Multiple Offers

May 3, 2013 1:06 am

With the real estate market heating up for spring, if you're selling your home, you could find yourself in the position of receiving multiple offers on your house in a short span of time – even within one day. So, with the ball in your court, how do you decide which offer is most attractive to you?

If you are considering multiple offers, the first thing your real estate agent may want to do is to make it clear to all parties that you have or expect several offers, and that all prospective buyers should be putting forward their "best offer." Although you and your agent are under no obligation to disclose the existence of multiple offers, it will probably benefit you as negotiations begin. Since you and your agent are the only party with visibility to all of the offers, you have the upper hand – each prospective buyer, without visibility to the terms of competing offers, will be forced to put forth the very best that he or she can manage in the hope of winning the sale.

As you peruse the terms offered, here are a few things to think about that may make some of the offers more attractive than others:

• Price. At first glance, it seems intuitive that you would want to accept the offer for the greatest amount of money for your house. If you have multiple offers in front of you, you may be tempted to take the highest offer. And while a fair price is a large part of what makes an offer attractive, there are some additional terms that you should consider as well.

• Closing date. When do you want the sale to close? If you are hoping for a quick close to the sale so that you can get into a new home or just to ensure that the sale is finalized and there are no surprises, you should take into consideration what each buyer is offering in terms of the closing and possession dates. Conversely, if you need to stay in your home a while longer while you are waiting on a new home or because you want to finish out a school year, it might be wise to accept a bid that will allow you to move out at a later date. You may want to also state which closing date you want, up front so that offers come in with dates that are attractive to you.

• Buyer's financing. If you are serious about accepting an offer, you're going to want to make sure that the sale will actually go through. Your buyer's financing is of paramount importance; if a buyer is a risk to secure financing, you may want to look elsewhere. How can you determine this? Always consider a pre-approval letter over a mere pre-qualification. Pre-approval suggests a very good bet that the buyer's lender will extend financing based on a completed assessment of the buyer's risk. A buyer who is willing to put down a large amount of earnest money should also be seen as serious about the offer they are making.

• Other contingencies. You will want to examine the contingencies listed in each buyer's offer. An offer contingent upon the buyer selling an existing home is far less attractive than an offer with no such contingency. Aside from a regular home inspection, a buyer may also request additional inspections for pests, air quality, asbestos, and other features of the property. A buyer with fewer of these requests may be more attractive to you than a buyer whose purchase is contingent upon multiple inspections.

Although it may seem like there is a lot to consider when comparing multiple offers, it's an enviable position to be in. The sluggish real estate market of the past few years has meant that fewer sellers have seen concurrent multiple offers. If you are fortunate enough to end up with multiple offers to choose from, consult your real estate agent and discuss which offer best fits your needs.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Top 10 Travel Insurance FAQs

May 3, 2013 1:06 am

With summer around the bend, many travelers will be heading out on much-needed vacations and should hopefully be seeking out travel insurance. Here is a list of the questions most commonly asked by travelers on the lookout.

1. Doesn’t my credit card have travel insurance?
No, not in the way most travelers want it to. Credit cards that have “travel insurance” provide little coverage, but nothing in comparison to a separate policy from a travel insurance company. Some cards provide cancellation coverage, but with an annual limit ($1,500-$2,500 per 12 month period), and the list of covered reasons is limited. Interruption coverage is limited as well, as is travel delay coverage. Most importantly though, is that almost no credit cards provide medical expense or evacuation coverage.

2. Won’t my regular health insurance cover me abroad?
Not completely. Most regular health insurance plans provide partial or no coverage while you are traveling in another country. For Medicare, there is never coverage abroad. Countries with “universal health care” might assist with minor needs, but they are under no obligation to do so. In the event of major or ongoing medical expenses, they would cease to help, and they would never pay to evacuate you or help you return home.

3. Will my cruise line refund me?
A little. It depends on when you cancel, but generally you won’t get much back. Most cruise companies have a declining refund schedule where they refund less and less the closer to the departure date, until they refund nothing at all. Generally within two weeks there is zero refund, and even canceling a month before will usually only get you a 25 percent refund.

4. Are hurricanes covered?
Yes, many plans cover hurricanes and weather under trip cancellation coverage. To be covered you need to 1) make sure it is listed as a covered reason, 2) buy before the storm is named, 3) insure for the full trip cost, and 4) some plans require that you buy soon after your trip payment to avoid the waiting period.

5. Are pre-existing conditions covered?
Yes, many plans offer a waiver that removes the pre-existing condition exclusion. To be covered you need to 1) buy your plan soon after your first trip payment, 2) insure for the full trip cost, 3) be medically cleared for travel at the time of purchase.

6. What does travel insurance cost?
Insurance costs 4-8 percent of the trip cost (pre-paid, non-refundable expenses). Basic plans can be very budget-minded at less than 4 percent, and premium vacation plans can be over 12 percent. Travel medical insurance is sold on a trip=length basis, and can be as little as dollars per day.

7. When should I purchase my plan?
Within days of making your initial trip deposit. There are many benefits to purchasing the plan sooner, including maximizing the period of cancellation coverage, and being eligible for pre-existing condition coverage and hurricane coverage.

8. How do I know I can trust the company?
The companies featured by Squaremouth.com are companies that have years of experience with solid AM Best ratings of financial stability, and they comply with a Zero Complaint Policy.

9. What is the refund policy?
A 100 percent refund of premium within the Free Look Period is guaranteed by all companies. This allows travelers to review their policy and return it for any reason within the time period (less a small administration fee $5-$8).

10. How do I buy travel insurance?
Travel insurance can be quoted and purchased instantly online using a credit card. Since travel insurance is a temporary insurance product, there is generally no underwriting period or medical examination required. You can get a quote online, buy with a credit card, print your email confirmation, and you’re all done.

Source: www.travelinsurancereview.net

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More People Will Be Building with Recycled Building Materials This Spring

May 2, 2013 1:06 am

Every spring, more and more people start home improvement projects. Good news for the earth: This spring, many of those people will be building with recycled building materials.

In a recent poll by Hometalk.com, 91 percent of respondents said that they had either used recycled building materials this year, or were planning to. You can see the growth in use of recycled building materials in these numbers:

• Consumption of composite lumber made from recycled plastics increased by 58 percent in recent years, according to Recycling Today.
• The primary market for recycled plastics is the composite lumber industry, according to The American Chemistry Council.
• According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, 88 percent of today's structural steel is made from recycled materials.
• The Harvard Graduate School of Design reports a sharp increase in the use of sustainable roofing materials.

While recycled lumber and composite decking lead the pack in popularity, other recycled building materials are seeing an increase in consumer demand. For instance, Hometalk.com member Brooks Custom, a fabricator of unique upscale counter tops, has expanded his line of counter tops to include recycled woods, metals, and concretes in order to meet customer demand for these materials.

"At Brooks we are experiencing an increased demand for Antique Chestnut and Southern Yellow Heart Pine from barn beams. These woods are very attractive and include lots of distress marks and imperfections. Our stainless steel countertops look crisp and new but steel is one of the most recycled metals in the world. Over 80 percent of waste steel is recycled and turned into new products, including countertops. Glass is another highly-recyclable material that has gained popularity, and we've seen an uptick in glass specialty tops," said Todd Costello.

"Many of the most popular projects on Hometalk.com are projects that incorporate recycled building materials. People seem to get extra enjoyment out of remodeling and building with these materials. I expect to see even more Hometalk.com members posting projects that involve recycled building materials as the spring remodeling season heats up," said Miriam Illions, Director of Community Development at Hometalk.com.

Source: Hometalk, LLC

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Prevent House Fires and Boost Home Safety with a Few Key Tips

May 2, 2013 1:06 am

Every year home electrical problems cause more than 28,000 house fires and massive property damage. Electrical wiring is the root cause of many of these fires, of which countless could have been prevented. To ensure electrical safety in your home, Constellation, an independent energy provider, is encouraging everyone to review key electrical safety tips.

Faulty or fixed wiring or improper use of electrical cords and other electrical items cause most home fires. Heed the following tips to maximize your home's safety:

• Pay Attention: Flickering lights, buzzing noises, and faceplates that are warm to the touch are all signs that a circuit may be overloaded or wiring may be wearing thin. Each one of those signs is cause for immediate attention from a licensed professional electrician.

• Listen to Your Breaker: If you are continually tripping a switch and having to reset your breaker box, your house is trying to tell you something. There may be a fixture with faulty wiring or too high an electrical load on the breaker. Again, seek professional help.

• Review and Replace: Frayed electrical cords, wobbly ceiling fans, and loose faceplates are more than mere annoyances. You should routinely inspect your home and replace or repair items in need of attention.

• Safety First: Even the best preparation and newest equipment is not a guaranteed protection against fire. Working smoke detectors on all levels of your home is an absolute must. Make sure you have a working fire extinguisher and you know the proper way to use it.

For more information and safety tips, visit www.esfi.org and www.constellation.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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