Diane Minguez
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RE/MAX 440   Diane Minguez
1110 North Broad Street  Lansdale, PA  19446
Office Phone: 215-362-2260    Phone: 267-575-6818  Fax: 267-354-6882  Cell: 267-575-6818
dminguez@remax.net

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Fourth Quarter Metro Area Home Prices Show Strongest Performance in Seven Years

February 12, 2013 2:54 am

A growing number of metropolitan areas had higher median home prices in the fourth quarter, with the national price showing the strongest year-over-year increase in seven years, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors®. A companion report shows record high housing affordability conditions for metro areas in 2012.

The median existing single-family home price rose in 133 out of 152 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) based on closings in the fourth quarter compared with same quarter in 2011, while 19 areas had price declines. In the third quarter, 120 areas showed increases from a year earlier, while in the fourth quarter of 2011, only 29 metros were up.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said all the conditions for strong price growth are at play. "Home sales are on a sustained uptrend, mortgage interest rates are hovering near record lows and unsold inventory is at the lowest level in 12 years," he said. "Home sales are being fueled by a pent-up demand and job creation, along with still favorable affordability conditions and rents rising at faster rates. Our population has been growing faster than overall housing stock, so supply and demand dynamics are very much at play." Yun added that more housing construction is needed to relieve some of the pressure in the market and keep home prices from overheating.

The national median existing single-family home price was $178,900 in the fourth quarter, up 10.0 percent from $162,600 in the fourth quarter of 2011, which is the strongest year-over-year price increase since the fourth quarter of 2005 when the median price jumped 13.6 percent. In the third quarter, the price rose 8.8 percent from a year earlier.

The median price is where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical than average prices, which are skewed higher by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions.

A shrinking market share of lower priced homes continues to account for some of the price growth. Distressed homes - foreclosures and short sales generally sold at deep discounts - accounted for 23 percent of fourth quarter sales, down from 30 percent a year ago.

Total existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, rose 5.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.90 million in the fourth quarter from 4.66 million in the third quarter, and were 12.1 percent above the 4.37 million pace during the fourth quarter of 2011. Sales in the last quarter were at the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2009 when they reached 4.95 million.

At the end of the fourth quarter there were 1.82 million existing homes available for sale, which is 21.6 percent below the close of the fourth quarter of 2011 when 2.32 million homes were on the market. Unsold inventory is at the lowest level since January 2001 when there were 1.78 million homes for sale.
According to Freddie Mac, the national commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage averaged a record low 3.36 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 3.54 percent in the third quarter and 4.01 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Source: NAR

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Online Shopping Study Shows Boomers' Purchasing Behavior Still Growing, Millennials Steady

February 12, 2013 2:54 am

Although the ongoing study by The Integer Group® has shown an increase in online shopping over the last three years, the latest study is showing online shopping overall has leveled out. Even though online shopping is steady, Boomers are continuing to increase their online purchases (up 4.5 percent since 2011) and the percentage of Millennials who reported purchasing more online is down 7 percent from 2011. This was revealed in the latest issue of The Checkout, an ongoing shopper behavior study conducted by Integer® and M/A/R/C Research.

"Millennials may be feeling the pinch of a still-slow economy and making the decision to watch spending more closely. It could also be that we are starting to reach a plateau in online-shopping adoption," said Craig Elston, senior vice president, Insight & Strategy at The Integer Group.

Even though many shoppers in the survey noted that they are shopping about the same amount online as they were three months ago, there are some interesting shifts in purchase categories. Since January 2012, online purchasing of health and beauty has increased significantly among shoppers aged 50 to 64, growing nearly 12 percent. The percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who say they've purchased any products online, even once, has dropped in all categories except books, music, and tickets. Overall, none of these categories saw major growth from 2011 to 2012.

Data for The Checkout comes from a national survey conducted by Integer and M/A/R/C where consumers are asked about their shopping attitudes, shopping behaviors, and economic outlook. Topics range from criteria shoppers use to select retailers, to which in-store stimulus is most likely to drive purchase, to factors that might lead shoppers to leave an aisle empty-handed.

Source: The Integer Group

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Blizzard May Cause Mold Damage for Thousands of New Englanders

February 12, 2013 2:54 am

As New Englanders dig out from last week's historic blizzard, a silent threat is creeping into their homes: mold. The snow accumulation on roofs and the high drifts against homes will soon start to melt as temperatures increase. While temperatures are expected to rise above the freezing point during the day, however, they are predicted to retreat below 32 degrees during the night, creating ideal conditions for ice damming and moisture penetration. Such conditions are breeding grounds for mold growth.

After a blizzard or any type of major storm, it is recommended that homeowners inspect their attics, basements and other moisture-prone areas for signs of damage and to consider calling a specially-trained and accredited mold inspector to detected hidden deficiencies. To eliminate any doubt about the safety of your air quality or home environment, a mold inspector uses specialized detection equipment such as digital moisture meters and infrared cameras to identify areas susceptible to mold growth. If mold is present, additional diagnostic testing equipment can be used to identify and quantify the type of fungal activity.

For homeowners that choose to hire a properly-equipped, environmental engineering company, they may be able to detect these hidden deficiencies and storm damage before family members start to get sick or areas of the home cannot be salvaged. Concerned parties should check their homeowner's insurance policy regarding storm damage and specifically inquire about any mold coverage they have. This coverage may include the proper testing and inspecting along with any remedial actions to thwart mold-related illnesses.

Source: IndoorDoctor, LLC

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Consumer Housing Sentiment Continues to Rise as Employment Concerns Wane

February 11, 2013 2:48 am

Increasing confidence in home sales and an improved sense of job security provide further evidence of the strengthening of the housing market, according to Fannie Mae’s January 2013 National Housing Survey results. Underlying the growing sense of optimism, the percentage of survey respondents who think it is a good time to sell a home continued to climb to 23 percent last month from 11 percent the same time last year. While expectations regarding personal finances stayed relatively flat last month, other housing indicators remained at or near survey highs, indicating consumers remain confident in the stability of the housing market.

“The housing market continues to firm, with consumer home price expectations for both rental and ownership properties near the strongest levels that we’ve seen in the survey’s two-and-a-half-year history,” said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. “Concerns about job loss are waning as payrolls are growing – a trend that may give potential homebuyers more confidence that they can meet the financial obligation of homeownership. The upward trend over the past year and a half in the share of consumers who say it’s a good time to sell may reflect two related events. First, homeowners see that home prices are improving. Second, the number of homeowners who are underwater is declining, reducing a barrier for those owners who need to sell their home in order to buy a new one.”

Survey Highlights

Homeownership and Renting

• The average 12-month home price change expectation fell slightly from last month’s survey high to 2.4 percent.
• At 41 percent, the share of those surveyed who believe home prices will go up in the next 12 months decreased by 2 percentage points from December’s survey high, while the share who believe home prices will go down returned to the survey low of 10 percent.
• The percentage of those surveyed who think mortgage rates will go up decreased by 3 percentage points to 41 percent, while those who think they will go down dipped slightly to 7 percent.
• Twenty-three percent of respondents say it is a good time to sell a house, up by 12 percentage points year-over-year.
• At 3.7 percent, the average 12-month rental price change expectation fell 0.9 percent from last month’s survey high.
• Fifty percent of those surveyed say home rental prices will go up in the next 12 months, a slight increase over December, and the highest level since the survey’s inception.
• The share of respondents who said they would buy if they were going to move held steady at 65 percent.

The Economy and Household Finances

• At 39 percent, the share of respondents who say the economy is on the right track increased slightly over December.
• The percentage who expect their personal financial situation to get better over the next 12 months rose by 3 percentage points to 43 percent.
• Twenty-three percent of respondents say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago, holding steady from last month.
• Thirty-eight percent reported significantly higher household expenses compared to 12 months ago, the highest level since December 2011.
• The percentage who are concerned they will lose their job in the next 12 months declined 1 percentage point to 19 percent, a survey low.

Source: Fannie Mae

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Looking for Love Online? Be Aware and Protect Yourself

February 11, 2013 2:48 am

Millions of Americans use dating sites, social networking sites and chat rooms to meet people. And many forge successful relationships. But scammers also use these sites to meet potential victims. They create fake profiles to build online relationships, and eventually convince people to send money in the name of love. Some even make wedding plans before disappearing with the money.

An online love interest who asks for money is almost certainly a scam artist.

How to Recognize a Scam Artist

The relationship may not be what you think, especially if your sweetheart:

• wants to leave the dating site immediately and use personal email or IM,
• claims love in a heartbeat,
• claims to be from the U.S., but is traveling or working overseas,
• plans to visit, but is prevented by a traumatic event or a business deal gone sour.
Scammers also like to say they’re out of the country for business or military service.

What You Can Do About It

You may lose your heart, but you don’t have to lose your shirt, too. Don’t wire money to cover:

• travel
• medical emergencies
• hotel bills
• hospital bills for a child or other relative
• visas or other official documents
• or losses from a temporary financial setback

Don’t send money to tide someone over after a mugging or robbery, and don’t do anyone a favor by making an online purchase or forwarding a package to another country. One request leads to another, and delays and disappointments will follow. In the end, the money will be gone along with the person you thought you knew.

Report relationship scams to the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complain Center, or your state Attorney General.

Source: FTC

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From Arizona to Hawaii, How Does Your City’s Air Fare?

February 11, 2013 2:48 am

Are you breathing clean? On average, people take more than 21,600 breaths a day, yet two-thirds of the American population does not think about the quality of the air they are breathing.

The AirGenius Awards, sponsored by the makers of the new Honeywell AirGenius Air Cleaner, set out to ‘clear the air’ by assessing the nation’s cities based on specific criteria related to air quality. 
So where can you find the cleanest air in America? In short, the answer is Florida. The awards, evaluated by scientists at the leading consulting firm Environmental Health & Engineering, highlighted six Florida metropolitan areas in the top 25, with Palm Bay/Melbourne/Titusville in first place. 

“Data on pollen counts, particulate matter and ozone concentrations, public smoking laws, and ‘green’ city rankings for the 100 most populated U.S. cities were used in this assessment,” says Dr. Ted Myatt, ScD, a senior scientist at the leading environmental consulting company Environmental Health & Engineering and Biological Safety Officer at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts. “The results are relevant to city dwellers and homeowners, particularly the elderly, young children, and individuals with allergies or asthma.”

Below is a list of the top 10 U.S. areas with the cleanest air:
1. Palm Bay/Melbourne/Titusville, Fla.
2. Cape Coral/Fort Myers, Fla.
3. North Port-Bradenton/Sarasota, Fla.
4. Honolulu, Hawaii
5. Tucson, Ariz.
6. Colorado Springs, Colo.
7. Albuquerque, N.M.
8. Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue, Wash.
9. Charleston/North Charleston/Summerville, S.C.
10. Lakeland/Winter Haven, Fla.

Source: www.HoneywellCleanAir.com.

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Valentine's Day Dining Trends

February 8, 2013 2:38 am

Whether you love or loathe Valentine’s Day, you have to admit that America seems smitten with the annual celebration of love. This day, dedicated to romance, has long been one of the most popular for dining out.

According to a survey by OpenTable, a leading provider of online restaurant reservations, restaurants are poised to be busy with diners celebrating love not only on Thursday, February 14, but on the weekend following Valentine's Day. OpenTable diners also indicated that they plan to celebrate love in a big way with a projected check average of $139, which is 63 percent more than the typical OpenTable check average of $85 per couple. The survey results also provided a peek into dating habits and trends related to the busiest holiday for dining out.

“The idea of a romantic Valentine's Day meal often conjures up images of lavish tasting menus, enchanting small plates, and prix fixe menus," says Caroline Potter, chief dining officer of OpenTable. "However, our survey revealed some surprising insights into how people want to celebrate Valentine's Day and an indication of romantic trends to come. Diners prefer a la carte ordering in a classic three-course meal where they can personalize their experience."

Long Weekend of Love
• 51 percent of respondents said they plan to dine out on Thursday, February 14, while 36 percent said they plan to celebrate Valentine's Day on Friday, February 15, or Saturday, February 16.
• 5 percent of diners said they plan to celebrate on Wednesday, February 13.
• 8 percent of respondents plan on dining out more than once for Valentine's Day.

Positive Reviews and Ambience Matter Most
• Respondents indicated that the top three factors in selecting a restaurant for Valentine's Day are positive reviews (34 percent), romantic ambience (27 percent) and service (16 percent).
• Less important attributes included restaurant location (14 percent), special Valentine's Day menus (8 percent) and the quality of the wine list (1 percent).

Most Desirable Menus
• When presented with menu options, diners said they prefer A la Carte (67 percent) over Prix Fixe (33 percent) menus.
• Traditional menus came out on top with the majority of diners (56 percent) saying they would select a classic three-course meal (starter, entrée, and dessert).
• Others preferred sharing several small plates (23 percent), feasting only on entrees (13 percent) or enjoying an extensive menu (8 percent).

Romance and Restaurants Go Hand in Hand
• 21 percent of diners said they would go on a first date on Valentine's Day, while 42 percent said that Valentine's Day dining is reserved for those dating for a month or two.
• The remaining 37 percent of respondents think that dining on the most romantic day of the year should be reserved for those who have been dating at least 3 months.
• 71 percent of diners said that only some PDA is appropriate on the most romantic day of the year, while 21 percent think Valentine's Day is all about the PDA. Still, 8 percent said that PDA in a restaurant is never appropriate.

Check, Please!
• Put your phone away! 56 percent of women and 61 percent of men say talking and texting at the table is the biggest dining faux pas a date can commit.
• Being rude to wait staff was the second biggest no-no for 32 percent of women and 28 percent of men.

Source: www.opentable.com

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Buying a New Furnace: Tips from the Pros

February 8, 2013 2:38 am

With winter in full swing, heating bills are on the rise. For people looking to lower their costs, the best place to look is of course the furnace.

“When I talk to people that are experiencing higher than expected heating bills, they are always surprised when they think back to how old their furnace actually is,” said David Coulson of Napoleon Fireplaces. “For furnaces 10 to 15 years old, you are looking at older, inefficient technology that is sucking the money right from your wallet. If you are looking to replace an older furnace, it’s really important to educate yourself before buying, as choosing the right furnace will save you money in the long run and keep the house at the perfect temperature.”

For people looking into a new furnace for their home, Coulson suggests the following tips:

1) Size matters – One of the most important factors when buying a furnace is to have a professional installer examine the size of the house and then determine the size of the furnace necessary for the space. A furnace that is too large leaves gaps in temperature as it turns on until it overwhelms the thermostat. The house ends up cooling down until the next cycle and creates an inconsistent temperature. A furnace that is the right size for the space, however, will be able to better regulate a constant temp.

2) Don’t buy on price alone – Always be sure to ask a professional installer, contractor or reputable salesperson about annual operating costs for whatever furnaces you may be looking at. While there are a variety of factors to consider, price should not necessarily be number one. Efficiencies, however, can vary drastically depending on price, which means that if you pay more up front, you’ll still enjoy lower heating bills 10 or 15 years down the road.

3) Get the right documentation – Any reputable installer or manufacturer will be sure to not only include the purchase agreement and warranty information, but also explain exactly what you are getting. If you feel confused or unsure about anything, don’t be afraid to ask.

4) Correct installation and maintenance – Furnace installation should be done by a trained professional, as not only can it be a safety hazard, but if anything is off, it can severely impact your efficiency and therefore your heating bill. Regular maintenance, generally in the fall, will keep the furnace performing like it should, keeping your family warm and your wallet a little fuller.

Above all, Coulson recommends that anyone looking to replace an old, inefficient furnace first explore all of their options and consult with a professional manufacturer or installer to find the right fit for their home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Tips to Help Homeowners and Buyers Avoid Appraisal Problems

February 8, 2013 2:38 am

The Appraisal Institute recently released some helpful tips for consumers, providing guidance for homeowners and buyers seeking to ensure their sales are completed in a timely manner.

As one of the nation’s largest professional associations of real estate appraisers, the Appraisal Institute created these helpful tips to let consumers know how to protect themselves and how to avoid unnecessary frustration when selling or buying a home.

“Too many consumers in this struggling real estate market face problems with appraisals when attempting to buy or sell a home,” said Appraisal Institute President Joseph C. Magdziarz, MAI, SRA. “But rather than passively endure delays in closing a sale, homeowners and buyers can take proactive steps to avoid pitfalls.”

The Appraisal Institute’s tips encourage homeowners and buyers to:
- Understand the role of appraisals.
- Make sure their lender hires a qualified appraiser (such as a designated SRA, SRPA or MAI member of the Appraisal Institute).
- Accompany the appraiser during the inspection of the property if possible.
- Request a copy of the appraisal report from the lender.
- Examine the appraisal report and ask questions.
- Appeal the appraisal if appropriate.
- Ask the lender to order a second appraisal by a qualified and designated appraiser.
- File legitimate complaints with appropriate state board or professional appraisal organizations.

“Credible opinions of value can help to stabilize the real estate market,” Magdziarz said. “Appraisals are especially important because they are an objective and unbiased source of information. Unlike others involved in real estate transactions, the appraiser is an independent professional who performs a service for a fee rather than for a commission.”

Magdziarz noted that normal declines in the real estate market have led to increased caution by lenders. That caution has led to delays in completing some real estate transactions.

“Appraisers today are doing the same thorough, fact-based research and analysis they have always done,” Magdziarz said. “Nothing has changed in that regard.”

Magdziarz added that appraisers have been wrongly accused of prolonging the nation’s real estate downturn by developing value opinions that are below proposed sale prices. Specifically, he said, they’ve been unfairly criticized for including comparable sales in the valuation process that provide opinions that are below the cost to build.

It serves neither the lender nor the consumer to enter into an upside-down mortgage, he noted. Some real estate agents, mortgage brokers and home builders have used the Home Valuation Code of Conduct and Interagency Appraisal and Evaluation Guidelines as a scapegoat for current declines in the real estate market caused by the weak economy and the general oversupply of homes in the market, Magdziarz said.

For more information, visit www.appraisalinstitute.org.

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Consumers Trust the Mail

February 6, 2013 2:34 am

The Postal Service ranks as the fourth most trusted company — a two-point increase from 2011 and its highest company ranking since the survey's inception by the premier privacy trust study in America. The same survey also named The Postal Service the "Most Trusted Government Agency" for the seventh year in a row.

The Ponemon Institute in its Most Trusted Companies for Privacy Study ranked the Postal Service as the fourth most trusted company of 704 entries from 25 industry sectors. The results show that customers regard the Postal Service as one of the best in keeping their information safe and secure.

"We are honored to be among the top five most trusted companies in the country. Our employees work hard each day to maintain that trust," said Krista Finazzo, consumer advocate. "We know our customers depend on the security of the mail and they trust and expect the Postal Service to protect their privacy."

Finazzo attributed the high ranking, in part, to the trusted relationship Americans have with letter carriers who deliver mail to every home and business. Despite the vast size of the Postal Service's network and scope of operations, many customers know their letter carriers by name and see them as welcomed and trusted members of the local community they serve each day, she said.

"Consumer confidence in the mail is a priority for the Postal Service. Each day we process nearly 40 percent of the world's mail to more addresses in a larger geographical region than any other postal service in the world. Customers expect us to protect the privacy of their personal information. We do not take this responsibility lightly," Finazzo said.

The survey asked adult-aged consumers to name up to five companies they believe to be the most trusted to protect the privacy of their personal information, based on the company's ability to handle and protect their information. Questions ranged from factors creating trust in the company and the levels of confidence consumers have in the company to protect their information — including information provided on websites — to limiting the amount of information collected.

Survey respondents also listed worries they had about how their privacy rights are possibly undermined by new technologies such as social media, smart mobile devices and geo-tracking tools. Despite this concern, 63 percent of respondents admit to sharing sensitive personal information with an unknown organization mainly when making purchases.

"We believe this survey validates the Postal Service's commitment to privacy and excellent customer service which are both key to building trusted consumer relationships," said Dr. Larry Ponemon , chairman and founder of Ponemon Institute. "And we are pleased to recognize the U.S. Postal Service as one of the most trusted organizations overall and among government agencies."

Source: U.S. Postal Service

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