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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81 Percent of Refinancing Homeowners Maintain or Reduce Mortgage Debt in Second Quarter

August 3, 2012 5:38 am

Freddie Mac released the results of its second quarter refinance analysis showing homeowners who refinance continue to strengthen their fiscal house.

In the second quarter of 2012, 81 percent of homeowners who refinanced their first-lien home mortgage either maintained about the same loan amount or lowered their principal balance by paying-in additional money at the closing table. Of these borrowers, 59 percent maintained about the same loan amount, and 23 percent of refinancing homeowners reduced their principal balance; the share of borrowers that kept about the same loan amount was the highest in the 27-year history of the analysis.

According to Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, "The typical borrower who refinanced reduced their interest rate by about 1.5 percentage points. On a $200,000 loan, that translates into saving about $2,900 in interest during the next 12 months. Fixed-rate mortgage rates hit new lows during June, with 30-year product averaging 3.68 percent and 15-year averaging 2.95 percent that month, according to our Primary Mortgage Market Survey.”

The net dollars of home equity converted to cash as part of a refinance, adjusted for consumer-price inflation, was at the lowest level in 17 years (since the second quarter of 1995). In the second quarter, an estimated $5 billion in net home equity was cashed out during the refinance of conventional prime-credit home mortgages, substantially less than during the peak cash-out refinance volume of $84 billion during the second quarter of 2006.

The median interest rate reduction for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was about 1.5 percentage points, or a savings of about 28 percent in interest rate, the largest percent reduction recorded in the 27 years of analysis.

Among the refinanced loans in Freddie Mac's analysis, the median depreciation of the collateral property was 16 percent over the median prior-loan life of 5.1 years. The prior-loan age was the oldest in 13 years, surpassed only by the prior-loan age recorded in the third quarter of 1999.

Property-value change and loan age varied between Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and other refinance loans. For loans refinanced during the second quarter through HARP, the median depreciation in property value was 34 percent and the prior loan had a median age of about 5.5 years (to be eligible for HARP, the prior loan had to be originated before June 1, 2009). Excluding HARP loans, other loans refinanced during the second quarter had a median property-value decline of 2 percent over a median prior-loan age of about 4 years.

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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5 Tips for a Great New School Year

August 2, 2012 5:36 am

Experts agree that it takes 21 days to form new habits, so if you want to start the school year off successfully, it's time to start preparing now. Here are five important tips for getting the new school year off to a great start:

1. Get on a “school schedule” at least three weeks before school starts: early bedtime, early wake-up, limited TV/video games/computer, healthy lunches and (yes) even a little homework.

2. Why is a good sleep schedule so important to your child’s success? Extensive research on sleep is well documented in the best-seller “Nurture Shock” by Po Bronson. Researchers found that even one less hour of sleep in children drastically affects their IQ, emotional well-being, ADHD and obesity.

3. Brush up on math, grammar, geography and foreign language before the school year starts. Why? In the mega best-selling book on success, “The Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, academic success was measured between rich kids and poor kids and also between American kids and Asian kids. Gladwell says, “America doesn’t have a school problem. We have a summer vacation problem.” His extensive research finds that by the end of a school year in June, the poor kids are slightly ahead of the rich academically and the American kids are equal to the Asian kids. But when these same kids are re-tested in September after returning from summer vacation, the poor kids are far behind the rich kids and the Americans are overall far behind the Asian kids. Why? American kids have 180 school days versus the Japanese kids having 243, so the American kids fall into a greater “achievement gap.” So invest in workbooks and other curriculum to help keep your children’s brain cells moving over the summer. Early childhood specialist, Naomi Schafer says, “It doesn’t matter what you do—just do something. Talk about fractions as you make dinner—say, ‘do you think these apple pieces are a quarter or an eighth? How can you know?’ Vary it based on your child’s ability.”

4. Mentally prepare your child for new social or emotional challenges she might face in a new school year. A new year might bring a new bully to the classroom. It is much easier to overcome these challenges when you talk to your child before she is challenged with them – not after.

5. Work with you teacher. How easy is it to manage 25-30 unruly children in today’s classrooms? Not easy at all. Teachers have extremely stressful jobs. Any teacher will tell you that the No. 1 component of a successful year versus a stressful year is the amount of participation she receives from the parents. Be involved. Volunteer in the classroom. Always attend teacher meetings…and listen to her needs and requests. Talking consistently with your child’s teacher will help you to handle and deal with issues in advance that, if left unchecked, could become stumbling blocks.

Source: Southwestern Parents

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Job Openings Increase in Top 50 Major Metro Areas, According to New Report

August 2, 2012 5:36 am

A new report points to a 4.5 percent increase in nationwide job openings month-over-month and a 9.9 percent increase year-over-year. According to the August 2012 Employment Report from Simply Hired, nationwide job competition remained at a ratio of three unemployed persons for every one job opening. The August 2012 Employment Outlook highlights the job industry and employer trends in national and regional U.S. markets.

"With nationwide job openings increasing for the third month in a row, we see an improved outlook for those who are unemployed," said Gautam Godhwani, co-founder and CEO of Simply Hired. "While there is uncertainty with the nation's slow growing economy and whether the Federal Reserve may stimulate it in the coming months, it's clear that companies across the U.S. are looking to hire in the meantime."

For the second month in a row, job openings increased in all 50 of the major metros. Grand Rapids (9 percent) and Cleveland & Akron and Salt Lake City (both 8 percent, respectively) experienced the largest increases. Metro area job competition also improved slightly for job seekers in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Houston.

Job openings increased in 14 of 18 industries in July, with hospitality (11 percent) and non-profit (9 percent) showing the largest amount of growth. Industries that decreased in job openings include retail (-6 percent), construction, media and manufacturing (all -2 percent, respectively).

Occupations experiencing the largest growth in job openings were law enforcement, fire and safety (15.8 percent) and engineers (excluding computer) (14.1 percent). The only occupation experiencing a decline month-over-month was educators (-2 percent). In addition, the nation's top hiring companies continue to be healthcare-related, followed by technology and financial companies.

Source: Simply Hired

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Pending Home Sales Slip in June, Remain Above a Year Ago

August 2, 2012 5:36 am

Pending home sales declined in June but marked 14 consecutive months of year-over-year gains, according to the National Association of REALTORS.®

The Pending Home Sales Index,* a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, slipped 1.4 percent to 99.3 in June from a downwardly revised 100.7 in May but is 9.5 percent higher than June 2011 when it was 90.7. The data reflect contracts but not closings.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says inventory shortages are a factor. “Buyer interest remains strong but fewer home listings mean fewer contract signing opportunities,” Yun explains. “We’ve been seeing a steady decline in the level of housing inventory, which is most pronounced in the lower price ranges popular with first-time buyers and investors.”

According to the REALTORS® Confidence Index, the buyer traffic index stood at 60 in June while the seller index was 41, which shows a large imbalance between buyer and seller interest. A value of 50 implies neutral market conditions; the disparity between buyers and sellers began to grow in early spring and has been in a particularly large imbalance for the past two months.

“Any bank-owned properties that have been held back in markets with inventory shortages should be released expeditiously to help meet market demand,” Yun says. “Housing starts will likely need to double over the next two years to satisfy the pent-up demand for both rentals and ownership.”

The PHSI in the Northeast fell 7.6 percent to 76.6 in June but is 12.2 percent higher than a year ago. In the Midwest the index slipped 0.4 percent to 94.4 in June but is 17.3 percent above June 2011. Pending home sales in the South declined 2.0 percent to an index of 106.2 in June but are 8.8 percent above a year earlier. In the West the index rose 2.6 percent in June to 111.5 and is 3.0 percent higher than June 2011.

Yun said there have also been delays in the closing process. “With record low mortgage interest rates, there has been a surge of refinancing on top of a higher level of home purchases, which has been creating delays recently in the closing process,” he explains.

“In addition, there have been some delays with recent foreclosure sales as banks take steps to ensure there are no paperwork problems. This is causing an uneven performance in sales closings, which is likely to continue, but we also see notably higher levels of sales activity compared with a relatively flat performance in the preceding four years,” Yun says.

Source: The National Association of REALTORS®

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Consumer Confidence Index Increases After Four Consecutive Declines

August 1, 2012 5:34 am

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had declined in June, improved slightly in July. The Index now stands at 65.9 (1985=100), up from 62.7 in June. The Expectations Index improved to 79.1 from 73.4. The Present Situation Index, however, decreased slightly to 46.2 from 46.6 a month ago.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey®, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was July 19.

Consumers' appraisal of current conditions eased in July. Those claiming business conditions are "good" declined to 13.8 percent from 14.2 percent, while those saying business conditions are "bad" decreased to 34.2 percent from 35.9 percent. Consumers' assessment of the labor market was also mixed. Those stating jobs are "hard to get" declined to 40.8 percent from 41.2 percent, while those claiming jobs are "plentiful" decreased to 7.8 percent from 8.3 percent.

On the other hand, consumers were generally more optimistic about the short-term outlook in July. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months rose to 18.9 percent from 16.0 percent, while those anticipating business conditions will worsen decreased to 14.6 percent from 15.8 percent. Consumers' outlook for the labor market was also more upbeat in July. Those expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased to 17.6 percent from 14.8 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs edged down to 20.3 percent from 20.8 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes, however, declined to 14.2 percent from 15.3 percent.

Source: The Conference Board

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Why Homebuyers and Sellers Should Work with a Real Estate Agent

August 1, 2012 5:34 am

While it can be tempting to go it alone when buying or selling a home, the vast majority of real estate consumers ultimately recognize the many benefits of working with a professional real estate agent. According to Lexington, Mass.-based REALTOR® KristinBrown Orr,while it may initially seem appealing to save some money, pursuing a real estate transaction without the assistance of an experienced real estate professional could actually end up costing you money…and causing lots of unnecessary stress.

Orr offers the following important reasons for working with a credible real estate agent and what they’ll bring to the table:

• Professionalism. Agents work for brokerages and are licensed professionals, Orr explains, which means they have a broker to answer to and are bound by law to act in the best interest of their clients. “Licensed agents have access to the tools of the trade – such as The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) Database –that is available only to professionals as well as the latest marketing techniques,” she explains. “They also have the benefit of a wide network of other real estate agents, mortgage brokers and attorneys from which to draw information.”

• Negotiation. Negotiating can be delicate or tedious between buyers and sellers, but real estate agents have specific experience in this arena, says Orr. “An agent can play the role of the ‘bad guy’ when it comes to negotiating, avoiding hard feelings between the buyer and seller. Real estate agents are skilled in conveying clients' concerns in a professional manner to ensure happiness for both parties – and ultimately that sale.”

• Knowledge. Real estate agents are highly knowledgeable when it comes to important information such as where the best neighborhoods are, what school is being closed or re-built, new developments or subdivisions popping up, and other critical local information. As Orr says, experienced agents know what comparable homes looked like, what they sold for and why. “A good agent knowsthe dirty little secrets and coveted features of different neighborhoods and communities. That agent may just have that ‘gem’ tucked up his or her sleeve that a buyer is looking for.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Rentals More Accepting of Furry Friends

July 31, 2012 5:34 am

Choosing an apartment to rent has a lot to do with its pet policy, according to a recent survey from Apartments.com. Forty-three percent of respondents are current pet owners, with more than a quarter planning on getting a four-legged friend within the next year. However, renters need to do their homework first before bringing home a furry friend, as not all apartment buildings allow pets, and the ones that do often have fees associated with pet ownership.

Current and soon-to-be pet owners are in luck because property managers and landlords are recognizing that renting with pets is an increasing trend, and more buildings are starting to accommodate this demand. Nearly 70 percent of renters surveyed reported having no difficulties finding a pet-friendly apartment. More than half of respondents also reported having to pay a pet deposit at their current residence, with 36 percent shelling out more than $200 for their four-legged companions.

The survey also found that it is not just Fido and Fifi's owners who enjoy their pet's company; more than 34 percent of respondents said although they do not have a pet, they enjoy living in a pet-friendly building, and 20 percent of non-pet owning renters said they avoid buildings that allow pets.
The top five most popular pets for renters are:
  1. Small dog (Under 25 pounds): 35.5 percent
  2. Cat: 24.2 percent
  3. Large dog (More than 50 pounds): 13.6 percent
  4. Medium dog (26 to 50 pounds): 11.0 percent
  5. Fish: 4.3 percent
Source: Apartments.com

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Consumers Take Control of Banking Relationships

July 31, 2012 5:34 am

Today’s consumers are taking control of their banking relationships, increasingly likely to change banks and expecting to be able to choose between a range of service levels and costs, according to Ernst & Young's 2012 global consumer banking survey. The study, which questioned 28,560 banking customers across 35 countries, highlights how customers also expect to be financially rewarded for their loyalty.

Globally only 44 percent of customers say their bank adapts products and services to meet their needs. 70 percent of customers would be happy to disclose personal information if it improved the level of service and products they were offered.

The survey also reveals that loyalty reward schemes are on the rise. Twenty-seven percent of customers are enrolled in a scheme, up 50 percent from 2011. However, customers expect more – the overwhelming majority agreed that if you have three products or more with a bank you should get better service (86 percent), and that you should be charged lower fees or given better rates on your savings accounts (91 percent).

Consumers are becoming less loyal and increasing the number of banks they use. Consumers who use only one bank have fallen from 41 percent to 31 percent. The number of consumers planning to change banks has risen from 7 percent to 12 percent year on year and attrition rates have increased in several major markets. Poor branch experience (31 percent) and lack of personalized contact or service (26 percent) are rising up the list of reasons for changing provider, although dissatisfaction with high fees continues to be the most commonly cited driver of attrition, cited by 50 percent of respondents.

Banks have made progress in improving their communication channels. Both call center and mobile banking services have improved, with customer satisfaction up 8 percent and 16 percent respectively year on year, however the power of the consumer voice has overtaken banks communication channels.

Personal recommendations from family and friends are the top source of information about banking products, with 71 percent of consumers relying on this information as their primary source. Fifty-five percent of consumers refer to online communities or social networks for advice and a third of customers who use social networking use it to actively comment on the service they receive from their bank.

Source: Ernst & Young

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Top 5 Mid-Year Tax Tips

July 31, 2012 5:34 am

With taxes in the news almost every day, and many important tax breaks having expired at the end of 2011 and more set to expire at the end of 2012, taxpayers would benefit from spending some time this summer reviewing their tax profiles and learning about possible changes. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service has honed in on the top five areas taxpayers should consider now, that may help put you in a better position when filing your tax returns next year:
  1. Know how any major changes happening in your life can impact a tax return: A wide range of common life occurrences may trigger tax considerations, which can result in a higher tax refund or a reduction to the amount of income taxes owed. For example, did you get married? Did you have or adopt a child? Buy a home? Move for a new job? Decide to go back to school? All of these life-changing events, and many others, may have related tax deductions and credits available and it is important to know what benefits exist and who is eligible.
  2. Check your withholdings to make sure they are correct: The Form W-4 determines the amount of withholding from a paycheck. In some cases, it is beneficial to consider changing a withholding status during the course of the year, such as when a child is born – leading to a new dependent to claim – or, if a taxpayer works multiple jobs during the year. Withholding can be changed at any time by completing a new Form W-4 for your employer.
  3. Think about what you are saving: Putting money away in an IRA account, or participating in a company sponsored 401(k) plan, can be an easy, tax-free way to reduce taxable income and start saving for the future. Taxpayers in lower income brackets may also qualify for a tax credit. For 2012, you can contribute up to $17,000 for a 401(k) plan if you are under age 50 ($22,500 if 50 or over) and up to $5,000 for an IRA if under age 50 ($6,000 if 50 or over).
  4. Beware of impending changes: A double whammy of problems for 2013 is expected to occur if provisions are not made by December 31, 2012. Taxpayers need to know what deductions and credits will be off the table – and what new considerations may be available to them that could improve their tax situation.
  5. The results of the election can influence your tax situation: By the middle of November, we will know who will set the course for taxes over the next four years. There are many proposals being considered from general tax rates to tax rates on specific types of income, as with capital gains and dividends, and various considerations related to business, including small businesses.
Source: Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc.

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Time-Saving Laundry Tips to Get You Out of the Laundry Room and Back to Family Fun

July 30, 2012 5:34 am

From messy meals to remnants of craft time creations, parents know that life is full of all kinds of stain-inducing—yet magical—adventures. But the great times should live on through cherished memories, not through permanently stained clothing. When it comes to removing those stains—from mud to markers and everything in between—knowing how to care for your child's garments means you can get out of the laundry room more quickly and focus on the activities your family enjoys.

Aside from letting your washer and dryer do the heavy lifting, there are a few tricks of the trade worth keeping in mind when it comes to protecting clothing items, according to laundry expert Tara Aronson. "There's more to prolonging the life of your garments than simply checking pockets and choosing the right cycle," offers Aronson.

Put these five tips to the test to help better care for your garments, so you can spend less time sorting and treating stains, and more time with the family.

1. Spot, Treat, and Check - If you spill something on a garment, immediately rinse or blot away the stain using cool water to prevent it from setting. Make sure to read fabric care labels and wash accordingly to help clothing last. And before you toss garments into the wash, be sure to double-check the pockets, as well as zip zippers and fasten buttons - this helps cut down on snags, holes, etc.

2. Sort, Sort, Sort - Sort laundry by color, wash cycle and water temperature required. Make it easier on yourself and your family by placing bins marked for whites, darks, mediums and delicates in your laundry room.

3. Choose the Right Cycle - High efficiency appliances can wash clothing on various cycles. This means you can launder sturdy items such as jeans on the permanent press cycle using warm water, causing less agitation, while washing swimsuits, fine knits and undergarments on the delicates cycle with cold water.

4. Double-duty - If your clothing is heavily soiled, extra-large, or you want to use the cold water setting, add extra laundry detergent when you start the cycle. Some high efficiency washers feature a sanitize setting, which uses the hottest water available to thoroughly get rid of germs and grime.

5. Quick Dry - Dry only full loads. Drying only a handful of garments prolongs the drying time by reducing the tumbling. If you have to dry a smaller load, add a few bath towels to help with tumbling.

"Remember that properly caring for your garments can help sustain your favorite clothing," says Aronson.

Source: Family Features

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