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

My Blog

Staying Safe When Lightning Strikes

March 26, 2013 1:18 am

While the chances of being struck by lightning are slim, with stormy weather coming our way in spring, it’s good to be prepared. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an average of 54 people are reported killed each year by lightning. Hundreds more survive strikes but suffer from a variety of symptoms, including memory loss, dizziness and other ailments.

Although lightning can happen during anytime of the year, most lightning strikes and lightning fires occur most often in the summer. Michael Pruitt, fire safety expert, presents the following safety tips:

• Look for shelter inside a home or large building.
• Stay away from windows or doors.
• Do not hide under tall trees for shelter.
• Unplug appliances and other electrical items, like computers and electronic equipment.
• Avoid washing your hands, doing laundry or washing dishes.
• If a person is hit by lightning, call 911 and get medical care immediately.

As we know, no safety tip is 100 percent safety proof, but being aware can help increase your safety during severe weather come summer.

Source: Michael Pruitt and Associates

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Mortgage Rates Stage for Start of Spring Home Buying Season

March 26, 2013 1:18 am

Freddie Mac released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates reversing course from the previous week and heading lower with the start of the spring home-buying season. As of this week, the 30-year fixed has remained below four percent for a year.

News Facts
• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.54 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending March 21, 2013, down from last week when it averaged 3.63 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.08 percent.

• 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.72 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.79 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.30 percent.

• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.61 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, the same as last week. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.96 percent.

• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.63 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.64 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.84 percent.

"Low and stable inflation is placing downward pressure on fixed mortgage rates. Annual growth in the consumer price index has remained at or below two percent for the past four months, and for the producer price index even lower," says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac.

"This, in part, is why the Federal Reserve monetary policy committee on March 20 lowered the upper end of its inflation forecast for 2013. In addition, our March Outlook calls for 30-year fixed mortgage rates to remain below 4 percent throughout this year."

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Appraisal Institute Provides Homeowners with Property Tax Appeal Tips

March 25, 2013 1:18 am

Homeowners who are considering property tax appeals should be prepared with all the necessary information. As many U.S. homeowners begin receiving their local property tax bills, the Appraisal Institute offered suggestions to make the appeal process easier, particularly in working with assessors.

“Don’t assume that the assessor is out to get the property owner,” said Appraisal Institute President Richard L. Borges II, MAI, SRA. “In a perfect world, the assessed value of a particular property would match market value if that is the regulatory intent of the particular jurisdiction’s property assessment law. But assessors aren’t able to look at each property individually every year as an appraiser might for mortgage financing, employee relocation, or other single-property appraisal assignments.”

In most situations, the assessment process uses a value model to produce what is called a mass appraisal for a universe of properties, which is typically many. This differs from an individual appraisal, such as one performed for a lender, which focuses only on a particular property. Sometimes the assessor’s value is higher than market value, while in other cases the assessor’s value is lower than market value.

Borges said homeowners should consider having an independent appraisal prepared and present the appraisal report to the assessor because appraisers are third-party experts who provide credible, reliable opinions of value. Also, he noted, many appraisers collaborate with property tax consultants and attorneys who specialize in tax appeal matters, which could provide the best opportunity for a property owner to increase the chances of a successful tax appeal.

There can be different stages of tax appeals based on the municipality, and Borges suggested that homeowners check with their assessor’s office or a local appraiser who can provide expertise. An experienced local appraiser can also shed light on the local appeals process, he said; however, this does not mean that appraisers should advocate an unreasonably low value for their clients because this would be an ethical violation. Appraisers are to act in an independent, objective and impartial manner, and advocate only for their expertly developed value opinions.

“Assessors’ offices generally have become more precise due to their use of technology that allows them to gain access to the same data as a property owner, appraiser, tax appeal consultant or attorney,” Borges said. “However, differences of opinion can arise over how the data is used. That’s why it’s typically best to start with an appraisal.”

He noted that consumers should keep in mind that assessors are usually adept at spotting faulty valuations and “hired guns” who provide values that appear to be unreasonably low. That is why it is very important to choose an appraiser whose work not only conforms to accepted industry standards, but to a strict code of ethics such as the one governing the actions of Appraisal Institute Designated members, he said.

Homeowners should be sure to hire a highly competent, well qualified appraiser, such as a Designated member of the Appraisal Institute.

Source: Appraisal Institute

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Moving Out and Sprucing Up

March 25, 2013 1:18 am

Americans are on the move. Fifteen percent of Americans, or approximately 35 million people, expect to move in 2013, a 50 percent increase from last year. Of these, 43 percent plan to purchase a new home, condo or apartment, while 47 percent will rent. Moving or not, the vast majority (72 percent) of Americans have at least one home improvement project on their to-do list this year, expecting to spend an average of $4,000.

A Seller’s Market
Overall, homeowners are more optimistic about the real estate market, with 57 percent feeling confident they could sell their home for their asking price today, a 36 percent increase from 2012.

Nearly half of consumers (45 percent) think the best time to buy is within the next six months. To speed up the process, most homeowners (70 percent) say they’re willing to make certain concessions to sweeten the home buying deal, a trend that’s increased 13 percent since 2011. Concessions include: throwing in appliances (46 percent), making requested repairs (32 percent) as well as paying closing costs (18 percent, up 64 percent since 2011).

Before concessions can be agreed upon, sellers will woo potential buyers by putting their house’s “best foot” forward. The most important fixes and upgrades, according to consumers include: making small repairs, like leaky faucets and damaged plaster (69 percent), organizing and de-cluttering (66 percent), painting (63 percent), improving landscaping (49 percent), updating bathrooms (33 percent), replacing out-of-date appliances (24 percent) and hiring professionals to stage or clean (23 percent).

Not everyone is packing up and moving; 25 percent of Americans are looking to take advantage of low interest rates to re-finance. Among them, 38 percent will use their refinancing savings to pay down debt and bills, 23 percent will put the extra cash in a piggy bank and 12 percent will put the money toward home improvement projects.

House Call: Upgrades Add Value
Whether selling or staying put, consumers say they’ll spend an average of 14 percent more on home improvement projects this year than last. Seventy-two percent of Americans, on par with last year, will spend an average of $4,000 on fixing and sprucing up their homes.

“Consumers are investing in their homes this year across nearly every category from DIY to new home furnishings,” said David Rabkin, SVP U.S. Consumer Lending Products, American Express. “Whether they’re redoing one room or the whole house, there is a significant bump in spending that should bode well for many merchants.”

Homeowners plan to spend an average of $4,000 this year, up from $3,500 in 2012:

• 62 percent have plans to purchase new home accessories or furniture.
• 63 percent are remodeling their interiors, spending an average of $3,300.
• 39 percent are remodeling outdoors or landscaping, spending an average of $1,800.
• 39 percent are re-doing a single room, spending an average of $2,900, and,
• 33 percent are updating their appliances, spending an average of $1,033.

Source: American Express

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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The Truth about Cellphones and the National Do Not Call Registry

March 25, 2013 1:18 am

by Colleen Tressler, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

Do you get aggravated by the constantly ringing phone during meal times and at night? Plenty of email forwards are sent every day with rumors about the National Do Not Call list, yet even after registering, sometimes those pesky calls still remain. Here are a few facts about the National Do Not Call Registry to help consumers save some sanity.

Contrary to re-circulating email:

• There is no new cellphone national do not call database. There is only one National Do Not Call Registry. It is operated by the Federal Trade Commission and covers both cell and landline phone numbers.
• Registering your cell or landline phone number is free. Once registered, a number stays on the Do Not Call Registry until the registration is canceled or service for the number is discontinued.
• There is no deadline for registering a phone number on the Do Not Call Registry.
• No numbers on the Do Not Call Registry are being released to telemarketers.

1. Why would I register my phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry?

The National Do Not Call Registry gives you an opportunity to limit the telemarketing calls you receive. Once you register your phone number, telemarketers covered by the National Do Not Call Registry have up to 31 days from the date you register to stop calling you.

2. Who manages the National Do Not Call Registry?

The National Do Not Call Registry is managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency. It is enforced by the FTC, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and state law enforcement officials.

3. When I register my phone number, how long until it shows up on the National Do Not Call Registry?

After you register, your phone number will show up on the registry by the next day. Telemarketers have up to 31 days to get your phone number and remove it from their call lists.

For more information, visit http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0108-national-do-not-call-registry

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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5 Tips to Reduce Plastic Waste and Ocean Pollution

March 22, 2013 1:10 am

It’s a growing problem in the northern Pacific Ocean and one that could change life on our planet within the next 20 years.

“I remember the first time I felt it; I was paddling out on my surfboard and noticed a mushy, plastic-like substance sliding through my fingers. That’s what started my obsession with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” says charity fundraiser and environmentalist Veronica Grey. “The patch is located between Hawaii and California in the northern Pacific Ocean, where millions of small bits of plastic have gathered in a vortex of ocean currents known as a gyre.”

As someone with ample experience raising awareness for worthy causes, Grey paired her professional skills with her personal passion for the ocean, creating the award-winning documentary “Aqua Seafoam Shame,” (www.Pacific-TV.com), which spotlights the mess in the ocean that has garnered precious little media attention, she says.

“Fifteen years ago The Patch was the size Texas, but now it’s the size of the continental United States,” says Grey, who used her iPhone to shoot the documentary, which features renowned scientists, journalists and environmentalists.

Plastic in the ocean has far-reaching implications that, if not addressed within 20 years, could change life on this planet, she says. To date, 177 species of sea life are known to ingest plastic; other species feed on those creatures, extending the chain of damage.

“People eat the seafood that eats plastic, and the planet gets its rain from the oceans, which are being polluted at an exponential rate,” she says. “We use significantly more of our planet’s surface as a dump than for growing food; this has to change.”

To begin addressing plastics pollution, Grey encourages people to use alternatives:

• Americans buy 2 million bottles of water every five minutes; ditch plastic bottles and use glass or recyclable cans.
• Carry a cost-effective canvas bag instead of getting disposable plastic bags at the grocery store. We waste 10 billion plastic bags every week!
• Do not line your trash cans with plastic bags. Use paper bags or nothing.
• Skip the lid on your to-go drinks. The paper cup is normally recyclable but the lid usually isn't.
• Remember that each and every time you flush; it all ends up in the ocean. Be mindful of what you toss in your toilet!

Source: Veronica Grey

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Home Values Performed 42 Percent Better When Located Near Public Transportation

March 22, 2013 1:10 am

Location, location, location near public transportation may be the new real-estate mantra according to a new study released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). Data in the study reveals that during the last recession, residential property values performed 42 percent better on average if they were located near public transportation with high-frequency service.

“When homes are located near public transportation, it is the equivalent of creating housing as desirable as beach front property,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy. “This study shows that consumers are choosing neighborhoods with high-frequency public transportation because it provides access to up to five times as many jobs per square mile as compared to other areas in a given region. Other attractive amenities in these neighborhoods include lower transportation costs, walkable areas and robust transportation choices.”

“Higher home values reflect greater market demand for areas near public transportation,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Transportation plays an important role in real estate and housing decisions, and the data suggests that residential real-estate near public transit will remain attractive to buyers going forward. A sound transportation system not only benefits individual property owners, but also creates the foundation for a community’s long-term economic well being.”

The study, The New Real-Estate Mantra: Location near Public Transportation, investigates how well residential properties located in a half-mile proximity to high-frequency public transportation or in the “public transit shed” have performed in holding their value during the recession compared to other properties in a given region.

While residential property values declined substantially between 2006 to 2011, properties close to public transit showed significantly stronger resiliency. The following are a few examples from the study: In Boston, residential property in the rapid transit area outperformed other properties in the region by an incredible 129 percent. In the Chicago public transit area home values performed 30 percent higher than the region; in San Francisco, 37 percent higher; Minneapolis-St Paul, 48 percent; and in Phoenix 37 percent higher.

The study looked at five regions, which illustrate the types of high-frequency public transit systems throughout the U.S. High-frequency public transportation includes subway (heavy rail), light rail and bus rapid transit. This sample accurately projects the nationwide average (42 percent) variance among properties located near high-frequency public transportation and those that are located further away from public transit.

Source: NAR

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Easy Ways to Tackle Interior Project Planning

March 21, 2013 1:06 am

Home remodeling and redecorating can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also be an awful lot of hard work. Among the many areas of focus for project work are stages of planning, getting any required licenses or permits, interviewing subcontractors and getting proposals with bids, looking over materials and making selections and making sure the entire project is on track and remains that way through completion. And many people find enjoyment as well as fulfillment with making material selections: choosing just the right color combinations and patterns, the best products and service for the budget and top quality providers to help build your projects. Consider the following suggestions when planning your interior project plans:

1) Budgeting Basics--Start by seeing if you have to completely remodel or if perhaps you can redecorate instead, and save money and time. Remodeling often means ripping apart old structures and then building new ones; like for extra space for a new window or set of shelves or a new room, ceiling or floor. However, with redecorating, you can frequently add simple new structures to those in your existing environment like a new bookcase, new curtains and plush carpeting, or new textured ceiling paint with all paper plus new hanging pictures and plush cushions.

2) Contractors, Invoices, Project Materials and More
—Next, you will have a lot of decisions to make: which project materials to buy, which vendors to use, which subcontractors to hire, how to agree to payments, how to handle problems and other important issues and emergencies along the way, etc. So start a project notebook with an accompanying folder specifically for this project. Keep all important documents, receipts, bids, business cards, designs, paint colors, fabric swatches and other info there, to ensure that everything is in one place.

3) Project Parts - Some areas of your project may have sub-categories or basic design elements that will involve work with different areas of focus for each part. For example, you may be remodeling one floor, so you'll have several main areas of focus under this heading like: bedroom walls, hallway and bedroom floors, all window treatments, upgraded lighting and new wood furniture. Use dividers in your notebook, extra folders or extra see-through sleeved pocket folders that fit into your binder to handle these separate areas of focus, so you can concentrate on specific tasks within each area.

With the proper planning, you can choose the easiest and most affordable redecorating or remodeling options that best suit your home's needs.

Source: MyHomeImprovementTips.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Host a Deliciously Fresh Brunch

March 21, 2013 1:06 am

(Family Features) Meals just taste better when you make them with fresh ingredients. So when you’re hosting a brunch, look for recipes that make the most of fresh, seasonal flavors, and ingredients that come from close to home.

• In-season fruits and vegetables tend to be better quality, have better flavor, and be less expensive. Whether you grow them yourself or get them at a farmers market or grocery store, take advantage of vitamin-rich produce at its peak. Use them in recipes or serve as part of a fruit and cheese plate.
• Turn fresh produce into a beautiful centerpiece. Fill a bowl with colorful whole fruits and fresh flowers; or add citrus slices and small fruits to a bowl of water with floating candles.
• Plan a variety of easy-to-make brunch dishes to satisfy guests. Quiches with fresh vegetables, make-ahead savory casseroles, and fresh fruit medleys or leafy green salads all make great brunch choices.

This delightful brunch recipe for Strawberry Ricotta Stuffed Whole Grain French Toast pairs ripe, juicy strawberries with whole grain bread and a decadent creamy filling. You can find more deliciously fresh brunch ideas at www.romanmeal.com.

Strawberry Ricotta Stuffed Whole Grain French Toast
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Servings: 4

1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
8 slices Roman Meal bread
2 cups fresh, sliced strawberries, divided
Nonstick cooking spray
Powdered sugar
Maple syrup (optional)

Combine ricotta cheese, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla in small bowl; mix well. Combine eggs, milk and remaining vanilla in shallow bowl; mix well.

Spread ricotta-sugar mixture evenly over 4 bread slices. Top each slice with 1/4 cup sliced strawberries and remaining bread slices to form 4 sandwiches.

Spray large skillet with nonstick cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Carefully dip sandwiches in egg mixture, coating both sides. Cook on each side for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with remaining strawberries. Serve with maple syrup, if desired.

Source: Roman Meal

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Simple Springtime Air Conditioner and Heat-Pump Maintenance Tips

March 21, 2013 1:06 am

The spring season is the ideal time to prepare cooling equipment for the hot summer months and ensure it operates at its highest efficiency.

"Heating and cooling is the single biggest energy consumer in a home, and accounts for about 40 percent of all the energy used by homeowners," said Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of AHRI. "That's why taking steps to ensure the unit is running as efficiently as possible can help offset cooling costs this summer."

AHRI offers homeowners the following tips to keep their central air conditioning and heat pump units running efficiently:

• Check the air filter and change it if it's dirty, or according to the manufacturer's recommendation, to keep dust from collecting on the evaporator coil fins. Keeping your filter clean can cut energy consumption 5 – 15 percent. Turn off the power to the air handler before pulling the filter out so that the fan doesn't come on and blow dust throughout the home. Be sure to position the new filter according to the manufacturer's instructions.

• Clear away leaves, grass, weeds, plants, and other debris that block airflow through the outdoor condensing unit, which is the large metal box in your yard next to your home. Anything that collects on the unit's fins will block airflow and reduce its efficiency. Grass clippings thrown by the lawn mower are particularly common offenders.

• Occasionally clean the outdoor condensing unit by spraying it with a water hose.

• Check to make sure air vents inside your home are not obstructed by furniture. Air in your home needs to circulate easily through the vents. Your air conditioner works less when air can circulate freely.
AHRI also suggests that homeowners hire a professional to service their air conditioner. A well-trained technician will find and fix problems in the system. Look for a technician that is certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE). You can find a NATE-certified technician online at www.natex.org.

Be sure to insist that the technician:

• Check for the correct amount of refrigerant and test for refrigerant leaks.
• Capture any refrigerant that must be evacuated from the system.
• Check for and seal duct leakage in central systems.
• Measure air flow through the evaporator coil.
• Check the accuracy of the thermostat.
• Verify the correct electric control sequence and make sure that the heating system and cooling system cannot operate simultaneously.
• Inspect electric terminals, clean and tighten connections, and apply a non-conductive coating if necessary.
• Check belts and oil motors for tightness and wear.

Finally, AHRI recommends that homeowners establish a service agreement with a reputable contractor that will take care of regular spring and fall maintenance to ensure maximum efficiency and catch problems early, before they can become bigger and more expensive. A service agreement also ensures that the homeowner has priority during the hottest and coldest months, when problems are most likely to emerge.

Source: AHRI

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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