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

My Blog

Tips for Hiring a House Cleaner

April 6, 2012 3:58 am

If the demands of your busy life are preventing you from keeping your house in tip-top shape, then you might want to consider hiring a professional house cleaner.

Measure the cost/benefit ratio when considering this step. For example, if cleaning your home is preventing you from spending quality time with your family—or simply enjoying some necessary down time for yourself—then it might be well worth investing in a house-cleaning service.

Angie’s List, the online community of consumer service reviews, offers the following tips for making the right hire:
  • Meet the house cleaner in person. Before you hire a house cleaner, make sure you feel comfortable having that person in your home. Check references on past work.
  • Ask about prices, fees, cancellations. Find out in advance how much a full service will cost, not just the hourly rate. Some companies charge per hour, others per visit or based on square footage. Find out if there is a fee should you have to cancel a cleaning appointment. Also find out if you can hire for a one-time service, or if an ongoing service contract is required.
  • Service guarantee. What if you're not happy with the service? Is there a guarantee? Find out how far in advance you should make your appointment. Some cleaning services operate anywhere from as little as a day to as long as several weeks in advance.
  • Decide how you want the service to enter your home. Establish beforehand if the service will use a key, garage code or if a family member or neighbor will let them in.
  • Ask about insurance. Does the company maintain proper liability insurance? Is it bonded? Does the company do background checks on employees?
  • Consider cleaning agents. Will the company bring its own supplies? Talk about what cleaning agents they use and eco-friendly options available.
  • What's important to you? Talk to the company about what you expect; what you like/dislike. Make any concerns or expectations you have clear upfront.
Be sure to communicate your preferences to the cleaning service—i.e., how you like your dishwasher loaded, what collectibles you’d rather dust yourself—and provide feedback on the job once it’s done. This will ensure an optimal cleaning experience and provide peace of mind that your investment is well worth it.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Can’t Pay Your Taxes? Know Your Options

April 6, 2012 3:58 am

If you’re among the many Americans who find that they are unable to pay their taxes due to a variety of financial challenges and circumstances, know that you are not alone. An inability to pay taxes owed, however, should not prevent you from filing. This will only make matters worse.

According to the IRS, if you cannot afford to pay monies owed to the government, you should still file by the deadline date and pay as much as you can. This will prevent you from incurring a late filing penalty fee—5 percent per month of the balance due. Paying as much as you can when you file your return will reduce interest and penalty charges.

New York City-based tax practitioner David Selig offers this additional advice to those who cannot pay their taxes:
  1. File your tax return irrespective of your ability to pay. In 99.9 percent of all cases, failure to pay is only a civil matter, whereas failure to file is, under IRC 7203, a misdemeanor. Additionally, in some egregious cases, failure to file can actually be elevated to a felony.
  2. In most cases, the IRS will give you an installment agreement. However, be sure to go over your budget carefully before you call the IRS. Remember, the government will try to collect as much as it possibly can—theoretically, in the shortest amount of time. Unfortunately, the majority of installment plans fail because the taxpayer agrees to pay more than he or she can afford. Review your budget carefully so that you’re better prepared to negotiate a plan that works.
  3. Get professional help. If you owe more than $25,000, it's a good idea to be represented by a licensed professional who understands the rules of procedure and IRS guidelines. The IRS has streamlined the approval process if the amount owed is not more than $25,000 and can be paid off within a five-year period.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Boomers Lack Vital Care Resources for Aging Parents

April 6, 2012 3:58 am

A burgeoning elderly population and lack of caregiving preparedness underscore the critical need for senior care resources, according to a survey conducted by Care.com, an online resource helping families connect with local caregivers for children, adults and seniors, pets and their homes.
Key findings of the survey include:
  • 46 percent of respondents have a good understanding of their aging loved ones' preferences for care, but don't know the details surrounding how to proceed.
  • 44 percent of respondents are tapped into their aging parents' behavioral/physical changes and are deeply concerned about their health and well being.
  • 47 percent of respondents are tasked with housekeeping, transportation and financial management duties for their aging parents.
  • 32 percent of respondents carry the full load of caregiving responsibilities for their aging parents.
  • 47 percent of respondents say concerns over finances and paying for long-term care are top of mind when addressing their aging loved one’s care needs.
Care.com advises those with aging parents to make plans for care as far in advance as possible and while one’s parents can still be part of the decision-making process.

"As a social worker with expertise in eldercare, I have heard the life stories of family caregivers, the heartache, the loss, the fear of aging and debilitation, the burdens, and the rewards," explains Jody Gastfriend, vice president of Care Management for Care.com. "As these findings show, making effective decisions about the care of a loved one often takes more time than anticipated and requires an understanding of the long-term care system that many caregivers lack."

For more information, visit care.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Green Housecleaning Makes for a Healthy Home

April 5, 2012 3:58 am

Many homeowners and professional housecleaners are trading their bleach, pine-scented and other potentially toxic cleaning chemicals in for more environmentally friendly and all-natural cleaners. According to consumer service-review website, Angie's List, there is an increase in both consumers seeking out eco-friendly cleaning companies and in professional cleaning companies that offer 'green' options.

"Spraying potentially toxic chemical-based cleaners into the air, pouring them down the sink or dumping them in landfills has a negative effect on both our health and our environment," says Angie's List founder Angie Hicks. "Your home no longer needs to smell like bleach or other chemicals to be considered clean. There are plenty of all-natural cleaning products that do an equally effective job, are easy on your pocketbook and are better for you and your family's health and for Mother Earth."

Many professional housecleaners are relying on biodegradable, non-toxic cleaners like baking soda, white distilled vinegar and some essential oils with disinfectant qualities (lemon, tea tree oil and eucalyptus, for example) to clean and disinfect. Distilled vinegar, for example, will kill nearly all bacteria with which it comes into contact, while baking soda is great for scrubbing out stains and even freshening up carpets and sink drains.

Some cleaning companies make a concerted effort to find other ways to further reduce their environmental impact, like cleaning and reusing towels and rags instead of using and throwing away power towels or sponges.

"As awareness for eco-friendly cleaning increases, many cleaning companies are turning exclusively to non-toxic products or are willing to supply them at a customer's request," Hicks explains. "Homeowners interested in hiring an eco-friendly housecleaner should still do their research before they hire and ask what products the housecleaner plans to use. Also check that the housecleaner is licensed, insured and bonded. That protects the company and the homeowner in the event an employee is injured on the job or damages property.

Consumers interested in purchasing eco-friendly cleaning products should always read the ingredient list to determine what the product is really made from. Many over-the-counter cleaning products are touted by the manufacturer as being green but still contain chemicals.

"It's never too late to go green when you clean," Hicks adds. "Box up all those chemicals you no longer want and take them to a local hazardous waste center. Replace them with all-natural cleaning products or by using an eco-friendly cleaning service. Your home will still smell and look great."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Window Safety and Your Children

April 5, 2012 3:58 am

This week marks National Window Safety Week, presenting a good opportunity to consider safety guidelines regarding your windows…especially when it comes to children. The experts at Simonton Windows offer the following suggestions:
  • Remember the primary purpose of a window screen is to keep insects outside. Never push on screens, as they will not support the weight of a child or family pet.
  • Lock windows when not in use to protect against intruders and make it more difficult for curious young children to open them.
  • Do not paint or nail windows shut. Every window in the home that is designed to be opened should be operational in case of an emergency.
  • Refrain from nailing or attaching decorative lights to the interior or exterior of window frames.
  • Plant shrubs or grass, and place “soft landscaping” like bark or mulch, directly underneath windows to help lessen the impact should someone accidently fall out of a window.
  • Make sure windows in every room and on every floor have clear openings that meet egress requirements in the living spaces as required by state and local building codes. Egress windows provide emergency exits in your home during a fire.
  • Practice home emergency fire drills and make sure children know under what circumstances to use a window to exit a home. If a door is hot to the touch, then both children and adults should exit through an open window.
  • Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not to break the window glass. Doing so could cause injury. During family safety drills, show children how to operate windows and how to use chain escape ladders that should be kept in all bedrooms located above ground level.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Lenders Expect Delinquencies to Drop, Credit to Expand

April 5, 2012 3:58 am

There is growing optimism among the lending community, which bodes well for would-be borrowers. FICO’s quarterly survey of bank risk professionals revealed a gradual reversal in the sentiment of U.S. lenders, as expectations for loan repayments and credit availability were more upbeat in the first quarter of 2012 than in the previous quarter. The survey, conducted for FICO by the Professional Risk Managers' International Association (PRMIA), found fewer lenders expecting a rise in delinquencies on home loans, car loans, and small business loans than at any time since FICO launched its survey in early 2010.

In the latest survey, the number of respondents expecting mortgage delinquencies to rise during the next six months was 12 percentage points lower than last quarter – dropping from 47 to 35 percent. The survey found 28 percent of respondents expected delinquencies on small business loans to increase, which is 11 percentage points lower than last quarter. And 20 percent of respondents expected delinquencies on car loans to increase, 13 percentage points lower than last quarter.

With regard to credit cards, 32 percent of respondents expected delinquencies to increase. That is an improvement of seven percentage points over last quarter and it is the lowest figure since the second quarter of 2011.

FICO analysts attribute the increase in positive expectations to the modest improvement in unemployment rates. Barring any unforeseen bumps in the near future, loan delinquencies are expected to continue declining.

One area that remains a cause for concern, however, is student lending, with 51 percent of respondents expecting delinquencies to rise. That is 16 percentage points lower than last quarter, but it is still the second-highest level recorded since FICO initiated its survey.

According to the survey, while the credit gap appears to be closing in most areas, there is still concern regarding housing—56 percent of respondents believed credit supply would not meet demand for residential mortgages.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Investment and Vacation Home Sales Surge in 2011

April 4, 2012 9:58 am

Sales of investment and vacation homes jumped in 2011, with the combined market share rising to the highest level since 2005, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. 

NAR’s 2012 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey, covering existing- and new-home transactions in 2011, shows investment-home sales surged an extraordinary 64.5 percent to 1.23 million last year from 749,000 in 2010. Vacation-home sales rose 7.0 percent to 502,000 in 2011 from 469,000 in 2010. Owner-occupied purchases fell 15.5 percent to 2.78 million. 

Vacation-home sales accounted for 11 percent of all transactions last year, up from 10 percent in 2010, while the portion of investment sales jumped to 27 percent in 2011 from 17 percent in 2010. 

NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said investors with cash took advantage of market conditions in 2011. “During the past year investors have been swooping into the market to take advantage of bargain home prices,” he said. “Rising rental income easily beat cash sitting in banks as an added inducement. In addition, 41 percent of investment buyers purchased more than one property.” 

Yun said the shift in investment buyer patterns in 2011 shows the market, for the large part, is able to absorb foreclosures hitting the market. “Small-time investors are helping the market heal since REO (bank real estate owned) inventory is not lingering for an extended period. Any government program to sell REO inventory in bulk to large institutional companies should be limited to small geographic areas. Even where alternatives are needed, it’s best to rely on the expertise of local businesses, nonprofit organizations and government,” he said. 

All-cash purchases have become fairly common in the investment- and vacation-home market during recent years: 49 percent of investment buyers paid cash in 2011, as did 42 percent of vacation-home buyers. Half of all investment home purchases in 2011 were distressed homes, as were 39 percent of vacation homes. 

The median investment-home price was $100,000 in 2011, up 6.4 percent from $94,000 in 2010, while the median vacation-home price was $121,300, down 19.1 percent from $150,000 in 2010.
Investment-home buyers in 2011 had a median age of 50, earned $86,100 and bought a home that was relatively close to their primary residence – a median distance of 25 miles, although 30 percent were more than 100 miles away. 

The typical vacation-home buyer was 50 years old, had a median household income of $88,600 and purchased a property that was a median distance of 305 miles from the primary residence; 35 percent of vacation homes were within 100 miles and 37 percent were more than 500 miles. Buyers plan to own their recreational property for a median of 10 years. 

Lifestyle factors have consistently been the primary motivation for vacation-home buyers, while the desire for rental income drives investment purchases. Vacation homes purchased last year were more likely to be in suburban or rural areas; investment homes were concentrated in suburban locations.
Eighty-two percent of vacation-home buyers said the primary reason for buying was to use the property themselves for vacations, or as a family retreat. Thirty percent plan to use the property as a primary residence in the future, and only 22 percent plan to rent to others. 

Half of investment buyers said they purchased primarily to generate rental income, and 34 percent wanted to diversify their investments or saw a good investment opportunity. 

Sixteen percent of vacation buyers and 14 percent of investment buyers purchased the property for a family member, friend or relative to use. In many cases the home is intended for a son or daughter to use while attending school. 

Forty-two percent of vacation homes purchased last year were in the South, 30 percent in the West, 15 percent in the Northeast and 12 percent in the Midwest; 1 percent were located outside of the U.S.
Forty-four percent of investment properties were in the South, 23 percent in the West, 17 percent in the Midwest and 15 percent in the Northeast. 

Eight out of 10 second-home buyers said it was a good time to buy. Nearly half of investment buyers said they were likely to purchase another property within two years, as did one-third of vacation-home buyers. 

Currently, 42.1 million people in the U.S. are ages 50-59 – a group that has dominated second-home sales since the middle part of the past decade and established records. An additional 43.5 million people are 40-49 years old, while another 40.2 million are 30-39. 

NAR’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows there are 8.0 million vacation homes and 42.8 million investment units in the U.S., compared with 75.3 million owner-occupied homes.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Employment Report: Worker Confidence Hits 4-Year High

April 4, 2012 9:58 am

Reaching its highest level since October 2007, U.S. employees painted an overall rosy picture in regards to the economy, job market, and their personal employment situation in March 2012. According to the latest Randstad Employment Report, overall U.S. worker confidence reached 55.5 in March versus 53.9 in February. This also marks the third month of consecutive increases. 

"Despite gas prices being one of the biggest concerns on the minds of workers, we remain pleasantly surprised with the steady increases seen in overall worker confidence," says Joanie Ruge, senior vice president and chief employment analyst for Randstad US Holding. "In fact, the Index confirms, from a frontline perspective, an optimistic and hopeful outlook around the number of job openings, job stability and the future strength of companies. Although the latest Index still remains five points below the historical high, it also stands 15.4 points higher than our Index's all-time low of 40.1 in January 2007. We remain hopeful that this trend will continue." 

The online survey was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Randstad. It surveyed 1,399 employed U.S. adults, aged 18 and over between March 13-15, 2012. Other key findings from the report include: 

Employee Confidence Index Hits Highest Level Since October 2007:
• The Employee Confidence Index reached its highest level in four years, registering at 55.5 in March, signifying a hopeful and positive outlook from Americans on the economy, job market and the future of their current employers 

Economic Confidence Rises for Seventh Consecutive Month; Highest Number of Consecutive Increases on Record:
• More than a third (32 percent) of employees feel the economy is getting stronger
• Twenty-two percent of U.S. workers believe more jobs are available versus 19 percent in February 

Workers Confident Around New Job Prospects:
• Almost half of U.S. workers (45 percent) feel confident in their ability to find a new job, indicating a more optimistic outlook in career opportunities 

A Majority of Workers Feel Their Positions Are Stable:
• Seventy-three percent of workers believe it is unlikely they will lose their jobs in the next 12 months, suggesting that employees are increasingly confident in their company's financial situation, and unconcerned around their individual expendability 

Employees Look to Future Career Prospects:
• While over half (55 percent) of U.S. workers are not likely to leave their current positions, 34 percent are likely to look for a new job, indicating a possible readiness to seek out other potential career paths

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Investor Sentiment Up Sharply in First Quarter of 2012

April 4, 2012 9:58 am

Investors' confidence rose during the first quarter of 2012, according to the John Hancock Investor Sentiment Index™, released recently by John Hancock Financial Services. Investor sentiment improved to +21 in the first quarter of this year, compared with a score of +15 in the fourth quarter of 2011, the most substantial increase since the Index was started in early 2011. The improvement this past quarter was driven by a rise in positive attitudes toward investing in stocks and balanced mutual funds. 

Investors report optimism about equities and foresee market growth. More than half are bullish on stocks (56 percent) and balanced mutual funds (54 percent). For those looking to invest in the market over the next six months, energy (55 percent), technology (53 percent) and healthcare companies (42 percent) lead the way. Investors are feeling optimistic as well about retirement products, with 77 percent saying it is a good time to contribute to 401(k) plans or IRAs. Two-thirds say they are likely to invest in a 401(k) plan within the next 12 months. 

Less confidence was shown with fixed products. Nearly two-thirds believe it's a bad time to be holding on to cash in the form of CDs, money market accounts and the like. For bonds, the views were mixed, with nearly 30 percent thinking it is a good time to buy bonds and a similar percentage (26 percent) saying it is a bad time to invest in them. 

The John Hancock Investor Sentiment Index™ is a quarterly measure of investors' views on a range of investment choices, life goals, and economic outlook, as well as their confidence in these areas. The first quarter survey was conducted in late February 2012. 

In a significant finding, more investors this past quarter believe they are in a better financial position today than they were two years ago (43 percent versus 33 percent in Q4 2011). Moreover, nearly 60 percent believe they will be in a better financial position looking ahead two years from now. 

Among the additional findings for Q1 2012:
• In early 2012, 44 percent said they are very concerned about the unemployment rate. However, the share of those who are very concerned over the unemployment rate has decreased significantly from Q3 2011, when 53 percent were very worried about unemployment, and Q4 2011, when 54 percent were.
• Investors continue to be very concerned about the cost of healthcare (60 percent) and the national debt (58 percent). During the quarter, worry also rose about oil and gas prices (49 percent versus 37 percent in Q4 2011).
• More investors predict higher inflation ahead. One-third believe the inflation rate will be four percent or higher in two years (34 percent), a significant increase from Q4 2011 (23 percent).
• Overall, investors are confident in their ability to attain several key financial goals. Nearly all homeowners are at least somewhat confident that they will pay off their mortgage (91 percent), and four in five non-homeowners (83 percent) are confident in their ability to purchase a home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty Announces Award Winners

April 3, 2012 3:54 pm

RISMEDIA, March 30, 2012–Better Homes and Gardens (BHG) Rand Realty announced its annual awards for the highest-achieving sales associates. BHG Rand Realty recognized 116 sales associates at its March 16th annual company-wide meeting and honored three of the highest performers in each of five regions – Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Dutchess and Northern NJ. The winners and [...]