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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Watch Out for Pests during Spring Cleanup

March 23, 2012 3:46 am

With the arrival of spring, homeowners and gardeners are beginning the task of cleaning up their yards and gardens to prepare for the growing season. However, gardeners, landscapers, and anyone working outside this spring need to know that tree branches, firewood, and cleared brush can harbor invasive insects and diseases, making proper use or disposal critical to preventing the spread of tree-killing pests.

More than 450 non-native forest insects and diseases are now established in the United States. While most can't move far on their own, many pests can hitchhike undetected on firewood and brush, starting new infestations in locations hundreds of miles away. These infestations can destroy forests, lower property values, and cost huge sums of money to control. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, estimates for damage costs in urban areas for just one invasive pest, the Asian longhorned beetle, range from $1.7 billion for nine selected cities to $669 billion for the entire United States.

Here are some tips for a pest-free spring cleanup:
  • If you don't want to keep your firewood until next winter, don't be tempted to take it with you when camping, and don't bring it along on any road trips. Instead, give it to your next-door neighbor, burn or chip it on site, or dispose of it locally.
  • Hire a tree service or rent a tree chipper to shred fallen trees and branches and brush into mulch for your own garden beds and landscaping projects.
  • Many areas now offer a yard waste recycling program. Contact your municipal solid waste management department for information specific to your area.
  • If a yard waste recycling or composting program is not available, and you cannot keep it on site, brush, logs, and branches should be disposed of in a local landfill.
  • Take care to respect all state and local regulations on the movement of firewood and other unprocessed wood – some areas are subject to serious fines for violations.
  • During your spring cleanup, if you notice an insect or tree disease you don't recognize, take a photo or obtain a specimen of it, and compare it to website photos of the suspected pest.
  • If you believe you have found a new outbreak of an invasive insect or disease, contact your state department of agriculture.
Source: The Nature Conservancy

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Top Economic Index for the U.S. Increases

March 23, 2012 3:46 am

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® (LEI) for the U.S. increased 0.7 percent in February to 95.5 (based on an index of 100 in 2004), following a 0.2 percent increase in January and a 0.5 percent increase in December.

According to Ataman Ozyildirim, an economist at The Conference Board: "Continued broad-based gains in the LEI for the United States confirm a more positive outlook for general economic activity in the first half of 2012, although still subdued consumer expectations and the purchasing managers' index for new orders held the LEI back in February. The CEI for the United States, a measure of current economic conditions, has also been rising as employment, income, and sales data all continue to improve. Industrial production, however, has not yet picked up strongly."

Added Ken Goldstein, economist at The Conference Board: "Recent data reflect an economy that improved this winter. To be sure, an unseasonably mild winter has contributed to many of the recent positive economic reports. But the consistent signal for the leading series suggests that progress on jobs, output, and incomes may continue through the summer months, if not beyond."

The composite economic indexes are the key elements in an analytic system designed to signal peaks and troughs in the business cycle, according to The Conference Board. The ten components of The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® for the U.S. include:
  • Average weekly hours, manufacturing
  • Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
  • Manufacturers' new orders, consumer goods and materials
  • ISM Index of New Orders
  • Manufacturers' new orders, nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders
  • Building permits, new private housing units
  • Stock prices, 500 common stocks
  • Leading Credit Index™
  • Interest rate spread, 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
  • Average consumer expectations for business conditions

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Solar-Powered Home Innovations

March 22, 2012 3:46 am

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced that the Solar Decathlon 2013 will take place October 3 through October 13, 2013 at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif.

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

The competition houses will be open to visitors on eight days over two weekends. Public hours will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily: Thursday, October 3 – Sunday, October 6, 2013 and Thursday, October 10 – Sunday, October 13, 2013.

This free event will showcase 20 highly efficient, solar-powered houses in a specially constructed solar village at the Orange County Great Park. Visitors can gather ideas to use in their own homes and learn about energy-saving features and products that can help them save energy and money.

The Solar Decathlon is a biennial event that was launched in 2002. The Great Park was selected as the site for the Solar Decathlon 2013 through a national competition. This will be the first time that the event has been held outside of Washington, DC.

Twenty university teams have been selected to participate in the Solar Decathlon 2013, including several west coast universities, including the University of Southern California, Stanford, California Institute of Technology, Santa Clara University, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico.

For more information, please visit www.ocgp.org.

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Best Cities for Wedded Bliss

March 22, 2012 3:46 am

A recent survey from Rent.com revealed some interesting facts about newlyweds, polling couples about combining households and their attitudes toward finances and quality of engaged and married life.

According to the survey, 75 percent of all respondents said that their overall quality of life has improved since moving in with their significant other. For the 25 percent of respondents that found living with their significant other to be stressful, the key areas of stress were not having their own space (42 percent), sharing household expenses (33 percent), and splitting up household chores (25 percent).

Finances are often a point of contention with couples, married or not. The good news is that 62 percent of respondents report that their financial situation has gotten better as a result of moving in with their significant other.

In addition to measuring couples’ attitudes, Rent.com also researched cities across the country, looking at cost of living, mean annual income, the unemployment rate, and rental inventory to identify 10 ideal cities for newlyweds. The website considers these locales both fun and affordable:
  • Austin, Tex. – Austin is the perfect home to inspire creative couples. A thriving art scene is a great way to experience unique date nights and meet other couples.
  • Raleigh/Durham, N.C . – Young professionals and new families are drawn to Raleigh for its affordability, friendliness, and favorable climate. Livable residential neighborhoods with the cultural benefits of a larger city make Raleigh/Durham the perfect place to settle down.
  • Dallas, Tex. – If you’re looking for a sports town, Dallas is the perfect new home. From watching professional sports to getting outdoors and playing yourself, active couples will never experience a dull moment in Dallas.
  • Kansas City, Mo. – Living in Kansas City offers a dynamic blend of affordability and high culture, combining both a renaissance of the arts and the warmth of a small town.
  • Houston, Tex. – One of the most culturally-rich cities in the nation, Houston offers everything from world-class museums to local farmers’ markets. Houston is great for both couples and new families, and boasts a thriving culinary scene.
  • Denver, Colo. – From craft beer culture to day trips to the Rocky Mountains, Denver is the city for adventurous newlyweds.
  • Minneapolis, Minn. – As the American Fitness Index’s “Fittest City in America,” Minneapolis is the most bike-friendly city in the nation. From lakes to parks, newlyweds will stay fit and active in Minneapolis.
  • Phoenix, Ariz. – Phoenix offers perpetual sunshine and colorful deserts for hiking and exploring. If outdoor adventures don’t suit your lifestyle, the city is also known to be a haven for foodies and families.
  • Washington, DC – A central location with a wide variety of job opportunities, Washington, DC offers something for everyone – shopping, entertainment, and cultural activities. It’s truly the city of compromise for opposites that attract.
  • Baltimore, Md. – A modern cultural center known for its hospitality, Baltimore offers a vibrant waterfront scene coupled with a laidback attitude. This city is perfect for couples looking for the comfort of a smaller hometown with the benefits of urban living.
Source: Rent.com

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February Existing-Home Sales Up Strongly From a Year Ago

March 22, 2012 3:46 am

While February existing-home sales declined from an upwardly revised January pace, they are well above a year ago, according to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). Sales were up in the Midwest and South, offset by declines in the Northeast and West. NAR also reported that the median home price posted a slight gain.

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, slipped 0.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million in February from an upwardly revised 4.63 million in January, but are 8.8 percent higher than the 4.22 million-unit level in February 2011.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said underlying factors are much better compared to one year ago. “The market is trending up unevenly, with record high consumer buying power and sustained job gains giving buyers the confidence they need to get into the market,” he reports. “Although relatively unusual, there will be rising demand for both rental space and homeownership this year. The great suppression in household formation during the past four years was unsustainable, and a pent-up demand could burst forth from the improving economy.”

NAR President Moe Veissi said market conditions are improving. “Supply and demand have become more balanced in more markets, but with tight supply in the lower price ranges – particularly in the West,” he explains. “When markets are balanced, we normally see prices rise one to two percentage points above the rate of inflation, but foreclosures and short sales are holding back median prices.”

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $156,600 in February, up 0.3 percent from February 2011. Distressed homes—foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts—accounted for 34 percent of February sales (20 percent were foreclosures and 14 percent were short sales), down from 35 percent in January and 39 percent in February 2011.

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How to Make Coupons Manageable

March 21, 2012 3:46 am

While you may not consider yourself a coupon clipper, the reality is you can save a significant amount of money without devoting an inordinate amount of time to the process.

According to Toni House, author of “How to Reduce Your Weekly Grocery Bill to $85 Per Week – Or Less!” there are several ways consumers can take advantage of coupons without being consumed by them:
  • Learn different stores’ rules. Call the grocery stores that are convenient to you (near home or work), ask these questions and write down the answers: Do you have double or triple coupon days? (If so, what are they?) Do you accept other stores’ coupons? Do you allow "stacking" coupons – using them on sale items?
  • Seek coupons far and wide. The Sunday paper is always a good place to start, but most households also get coupons through direct mail. And you can find coupon deals at SaveYourMoneySaveYourFamily.com, Coupon-Lady.com and a host of other sites. If there are brand-name products you just have to have, try Googling the name and "coupon."
  • Plan meals around your coupons. Say you have coupons for 30 cents off a box of pasta, half-off spaghetti sauce, buy-one-get-one canned mushrooms, and $1 off a pound of ground chuck. Can you smell dinner simmering? For less than $4?
  • Organize your coupons. An expandable folder, like you might use for taxes, is a convenient place to store coupons at home. You might organize it by product – frozen foods, snacks, meats, or by expiration date. If you’re going to do some meal planning around coupons, you might want a section for those. As you clip, sort the coupons immediately so you don’t end up with a big pile that never gets sorted or used.
  • Save up to 30 - 50 percent with "shopping club" cards. Many supermarkets now offer "shopping clubs" that provide members with special in-store discounts. These are no-clipping-required coupons that never expire. Some stores have an associated website where you can log in while you’re planning your shopping list and see what discounts are available that week.
  • Upload coupons directly onto your shopping club card. Stores that have a shopping club website may also post manufacturer and brand coupons there. Log into the site with your card ID number, then click on the coupons you want and they’ll load right onto your card.
Source: www.saveyourmoneysaveyourfamily.com.

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Consumer Credit Default Rates Decreased in February

March 21, 2012 3:46 am

Data through February 2012 released by S&P Indices and Experian for the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices, a comprehensive measure of changes in consumer credit defaults, showed that all loan types saw a decrease in default rates for a second consecutive month.

The national composite declined to 2.09 percent in February from the 2.16 percent January rate. The first mortgage default rate decreased from January's 2.08 percent to February's 2.02 percent. Second mortgage, bank card and auto loans default rates also declined from 1.30 percent, 4.57 percent and 1.27 percent in January to 1.20 percent, 4.41 percent and 1.22 percent in February, respectively.

According to David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee for S&P Indices, the second half of 2011 saw a rise in consumer defaults, led by four consecutive monthly increases in first mortgage default rates. “January and February's combined reports show broad based declines in all types of default rates, which is a good way to start the year,” he adds.

"The first mortgage default rate fell by six basis points in February, bringing this rate closer to the lows seen in the summer of 2011,” explains Blitzer. “Second mortgage and bank card default rates fell by even more during that month. In fact, both second mortgage and bank card default rates are their lowest in the three-year history of these data. While bank cards tend to have the highest default rate, at 4.41 percent, it is now less than half of the 9.15 percent recorded less than two years ago.”

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$73.8 Million Awarded to Help Nearly 190,000 Homeowners

March 21, 2012 3:46 am

NeighborWorks America, an organization designed to increase access to homeownership and safe and affordable rental housing, has announced that $73,870,078 has been awarded to 32 state housing finance agencies (HFAs), 18 HUD-approved housing counseling intermediaries, and 86 community-based NeighborWorks organizations to provide counseling to families and individuals facing the threat of foreclosure. Just four months after the sixth round of National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) Program funds were appropriated to communities across the country.

According to NeighborWorks America, at a time when foreclosures continue to affect communities around the country and unemployment rates remain stubbornly high, the need for the NFMC funding is critical. Demand for these funds far exceeded the amount of funding available; eligible applicants requested over $124 million in NFMC grant funds.

In total, more than 1,300 nonprofit counseling agencies and local NeighborWorks organizations across the country are expected to be engaged in the NFMC Program as a result of these awards. These organizations provide free assistance to families at risk of losing their homes, determine homeowner eligibility for the various state and federal foreclosure prevention assistance programs, help homeowners understand the complex foreclosure process, and identify possible courses of action so their homeowner clients can make informed decisions and take action.

To date, more than 1,350,000 families in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Guam have received foreclosure counseling through the NFMC Program. It is estimated that nearly 190,000 families facing the threat of foreclosure will be directly assisted with this sixth round of funding. Many more are expected to be helped by the training of foreclosure counselors provided through the NFMC Program. NeighborWorks expects to train more than 2,000 counselors with the sixth round of NFMC funding.

Source: NeighborWorks America

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Housewares Show Report New Color, Innovation for Cooks

March 20, 2012 3:46 am

The International Home & Housewares Show held in Chicago earlier this month featured cookware designs marked by celebrity chefs and bold color palettes, according to editors at Home Furnishings News (HFN).

Chef Mario Batali, for example, added a larger cast iron pan to his line with Dansk, designed to make cooking large family meals easier.

HFN also reports a new cast iron line from Tramontina—Enameled Cast Iron is an induction-friendly, limited edition series available in four colors. Meyer also released a lightweight cast iron line with KitchenAid, as well as new shapes and stainless steel knobs in its Rachael Ray cast iron offering.
The Cookware Company launched a colorful Fiesta licensed line, which also includes enameled cast iron, and the Fiesta logo. Available in four colors - scarlet, ivory, cobalt and turquoise - the new line also includes aluminum and stainless steel cookware offerings.

Innovative products for bakers also proliferated at the show, reports HFN, including Kuhn Rikon’s Ultimate Cupcake Set, Meyer’s fondue pot in the Rachael Ray line, Zoku’s single pop maker, and Durakleen’s Entemann’s brand cake pop set and mini set for kids.

According to HFN, products that maximize space were also a big contender at the Houswares show, such as Robinson Home’s Squish line of collapsible colanders and kitchenware, DKB’s Zyliss 3-in-1 folding grater with acid-etched blades, and Twiztt’s nesting melamine bowls.

Source: HFNmag.com

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How to Choose the Right Painter

March 20, 2012 3:46 am

While many homeowners are quite comfortable handling interior paint jobs on their own, a professional painter is usually enlisted for painting the home’s exterior.

Since painting your home is critical to your home’s appearance and value, finding the best possible painter is essential. Consumer Reports offers the following tips for making the right choice: 

Don’t agree to let the painter assess the condition of your home’s exterior without you. Note how long they take to conduct the assessment. The more time spent, the more realistic the estimate will be. Ask about the size and experience of the crew. 

Be clear about expectations. It’s not just the number of coats that are applied that determines quality and price—preparing the surface prior to painting is key. If you want a surface that’s free of unevenness from prior paint jobs, you’ll need to say so, and be prepared to pay extra. But if you can live with some imperfections showing through, point out what level of prep is acceptable and what isn’t. 

Check references and work. Call references and go see jobs that were done several years ago to see how the painter’s work is holding up. A history of positive references is a good sign. Use recent projects to check the skill of a contractor’s current crew. Ask how surprises or problems were resolved. 

Consider credentials. Membership in a trade or local business group isn’t a guarantee of quality, but it shows a level of commitment and reliability. For licensing information in your state, check www.contractors-license.org. Also check with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), your state’s attorney general’s office, or a local consumer-affairs agency to learn whether the contractor has a history of unresolved complaints. 

Get estimates. Always seek three written estimates. Each should include a breakdown of labor, material costs, the number of coats of primer and paint, the brand and model of materials, and a detailed description of the amount of surface preparation that will be done. 

Check for lead. If your home was built before 1978, older coats of paint could contain lead. So extra precautions might be needed. 

Get a complete contract. It should include all the contractor’s key information: name, address, office and cellphone numbers, and license number, plus whatever details were in the estimate. Make sure it’s clear what is and is not included in the job. Avoid a large down payment and withhold the final payment, typically 10 to 15 percent, until you are satisfied with the job. Get a copy of each painter’s liability and workers compensation insurance certificates. Otherwise, if someone gets hurt while on the job, you could be on the hook. 

Ask for a guarantee. The painter should promise to correct any chipping, peeling, blistering, flaking, or excessive fading or chalking that occurs within two years after the job is done at no or little cost. If he tells you the paint itself has a warranty, remember that doesn’t include labor, which is a far more costly proposition than material.

Source: Consumer Reports

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