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Mary Southern
4092 Skippack Pike, P.O. Box 880 | Skippack, PA 19474
Phone: 610-207-2110 | Office Phone: 610-584-1160 | Fax: 484-991-1837
Cell: 610-207-2110 | email: mary@marysouthern.com

Mary's Blog

Real Estate for Your World

5 Pesky Mistakes New Homeowners Make

February 26, 2016 2:03 am

(Family Features) From seasonal temperature fluctuations to excess rainfall, pests find any excuse to enter homes. The homes of new homeowners are especially prone to attracting pests, says Ron Harrison, entomologist with Orkin, partly because they are unaware of the best preventative measures.

If you’re a new homeowner, avoid these 5 “pesky” mistakes.

1. Overlooking Tiny Cracks – Even miniscule cracks and crevices in the foundation, doorways and walls can invite pests inside, including rodents, which are able to squeeze through openings as small as a coin. To keep pests from entering your home, promptly clean up all water and food spills, seal any openings around doors, windows and pipes, and install weather stripping around and under all doors, including garage doors.

2. Furnishing with Second-Hand Items – It may be tempting to save money by purchasing furniture from a thrift shop or garage sale, but pests have been known to hide in second-hand upholstered furniture—and once inside, they can spread from room to room. To keep this from happening, inspect and quarantine (for several months, if possible) all second-hand furniture before bringing it into your home.

3. Ignoring Insulation – The attic can be a gateway inside the home for pests that nest in insulation. Inspect insulation for pest activity and damage on a regular basis. Consider installing new insulation that incorporates materials specifically designed to deter pests.

4. Neglecting Flooring/Siding Damage – The foundation, wood framing, furniture and shelves are all possible feeding sites for termites. Signs of termite activity include buckling wood, swollen floors and ceilings that appear to have slight water damage. Have your home regularly inspected by a licensed professional to avoid potentially extensive (and expensive!) termite damage.

5. Forgoing Repairs – Leaks may appear minor, but when combined with condensation, they create ideal conditions for pests that are attracted to damp areas. These areas are most likely located in an attic, crawlspace, basement, kitchen or bathroom. To keep pests out, fix leaking faucets, water pipes or HVAC units as soon as possible, and eliminate standing water on the roof or in gutters as soon as the weather dries up.

Source: Orkin

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Kids in the Kitchen: 5 Reasons to Resurrect the Family Dinner

February 25, 2016 2:03 am

A familiar event is making a comeback at home: the family dinner.

Data from a recently released study show that “togetherness” grows when families prepare meals together, harkening back to the “heart of the home” adage most often associated with the kitchen. Nearly all parents cited in the study (93 percent) report their child helps them with cooking, and over three-in-four (76 percent) report their child helps them cook at least a few times a week.

In what ways do children reap the benefits of shared mealtime? According to the study, children who assist with food preparation and sit down at the dinner table with their families are apt to:

Actively participate – Four in 10 parents in the study report that children are more engaged in conversations at the dinner table, and 39 percent report their children are likely to stay longer at the table.

Feel accomplished – Sixty-eight percent of parents in the study report their children are proud about the meal they’ve helped prepare; 64 percent report their children are excited about the meal they’ve helped prepare.

Feel more confident – More than half of parents in the study report a boost of confidence in their children when the child assists with cooking. Additionally, 63 percent of parents say their child learns responsibility, 47 percent say their child’s focus improves, and 42 percent say their children become better communicators.

Share responsibilities – Children also develop a sense of shared duty when assisting in the kitchen. According to the study, some of the most common tasks children are responsible for include stirring, rising, measuring and cleaning up.

Try new foods – Half of parents cited in the study agree that when their children help cook, they are likely to try new food, as well as finish the meal.

Source: LG Electronics USA

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Who's Driving Home Renovation Activity This Year?

February 25, 2016 2:03 am

A driving force behind the renovation economy, millennials are leading the pack when it comes to remodeling their homes. In fact, according to a recent report by online renovation platform Kukun, Generation Y will head up much of the renovation activity—poised to grow by more than 5 percent—in 2016.

The largest concentration of renovators this year, according to Kukun’s report, will be in California, which boasts not only a predominantly affluent population, but also mild weather ideal for projects year-round.

“Major metropolitan areas, such as San Francisco and New York, are seeing the greatest number of home renovations due to their growing housing markets,” says Raf Howery, co-founder and CEO of Kukun. “We’re also happy to see that millennials are embracing the renovation process. Their generation is environmentally conscious and wants homes with sophistication, history and character.”

Not surprisingly, kitchens and bathrooms will remain the most popular renovation projects in the year to come, Kukun’s report shows. Over 75 percent of those planning a kitchen remodel in the next year will undertake a living room reno, too—and nearly an identical percentage will re-do a bedroom in addition to a bathroom.

Source: Kukun

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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10 Landscape Trends that Conserve Water

February 25, 2016 2:03 am

Homeowners are expected to incorporate sustainable, water-saving features into their landscapes in the year ahead, as conservation takes root in homes across the country, according to a recently released survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

“Water issues are hot topics for many communities, and many people are turning to landscape architects for creative green infrastructure solutions,” says Nancy Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. “Sustainable residential landscape architecture, if part of a broader integrated site design, can dramatically reduce water usage and stormwater runoff over the long term while creating a healthy residential environment.”

The 10 most popular trends that support this initiative, according to the ASLA, are:

1. Rainwater/Greywater Harvesting
2. Native/Adapted Plants
3. Drought-Tolerant Plants
4. Low-Maintenance Landscapes
5. Permeable Paving
6. Fire Pits and Fireplaces
7. Food Gardens
8. Rain Gardens
9. Drip or Water-Efficient Irrigation
10. Reduced Lawn Area

Other features homeowners will implement this year, per the ASLA’s survey, are dry gardens, organic gardens, plant walls, vertical gardens and xeriscapes—all of which conserve, or eliminate the use of, water.

Source: ASLA

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Majority Using Tax Refunds for Savings Boost

February 24, 2016 2:00 am

How are taxpayers planning to use their refunds this season? Many are prioritizing future financial security, according to the National Retail Federation.

“Consumers are boosting their confidence and building their spending power as they set aside their checks from Uncle Sam,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay says. “Americans this year see refund season as a time to improve their financial health by using their refunds to get ahead on savings goals, pay down debt and plan for purchases in the future. Money saved is spending potential down the road.”

Americans are exercising forethought beyond savings, as well. According to the NRF, nearly 35 percent of taxpayers—and 45 percent of millennial taxpayers—plan to pay down debt with their refunds.

“Millennials are being wise and putting saving ahead of splurging as they look for ways to get ahead,” Prosper Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow says. “Young consumers see their refund as an opportunity to build their savings without making a dent in their monthly budget.”

Splurges will happen, but not by many. According to the NRF, just over 10 percent of refund recipients will spend their refunds on  a vacation, approximately 9 percent will make a major purchase (e.g., car, television), and about 8 percent will indulge in a night out or a trip to a spa.

Source: NRF

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Report: Mortgage Repayment Rates Recovering

February 24, 2016 2:00 am

Housing appears to be benefitting from the steadily improving economy. According to a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, mortgage repayment rates are recovering, with just 2.2 percent of mortgage balances 90 or more days delinquent. More than half of all new mortgage balances went to borrowers with credit scores averaging 760.

“Non-housing debt balances have been rising, but the same cannot be said for mortgages,” says Andrew Haughwout, senior vice president at the New York Fed.  “Mortgages are being paid down faster, helping to offset the generally rising volume of originations.”

The report found 90-plus day delinquencies for all forms of household debt have dropped to their lowest level since the beginning of 2008. Only 5.4 percent of outstanding debt was in some stage of delinquency—the lowest rate since 2007.

Balances on home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) have also declined, a trend continuing for the last four years. Balances fell last quarter by $5 billion in total.

Total household indebtedness, mortgages included, stands at $12.2 trillion, according to the report.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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5 Tips to Avoid Mortgage Fraud

February 24, 2016 2:00 am

Mortgage fraud, a crime defined by the FBI as “some type of material misstatement, misrepresentation, or omission on a loan which is then relied upon by a lender,” can result in devastating outcomes for victims. Perpetrators of mortgage fraud generally fall into two camps: those in the industry, and the borrowers themselves.

Mortgage fraud encompasses several ploys, including schemes like air loans, builder bailouts, condo conversions, equity skimming, false commercial leases or residential loans, foreclosure rescue scams, fraudulent flip appraisals, loan modification scams, and reverse mortgage and “silent second” mortgage scams. These crimes are complex cons designed to benefit to the scammer, either through profit or housing.

Mortgage fraud does not discriminate—it can affect any one at any stage of homeownership. To avoid becoming a victim, follow these guidelines.

1. Seek out lender referrals from your REALTOR®. He or she can point you in the direction of a reputable professional. Take precautionary measures and compare the lender’s credentials against the information kept by your local regulatory agency.

2. Do not include false information on a loan application, even if another party advises you to do so. Be honest about all of your personal information, including source of income, and confirm that information before signing.

3. Review all other mortgage documents thoroughly before signing them. Don’t hesitate to have a third party review them with you for clarification. Never sign a document that is blank or has incomplete information.

4. Conduct your own research on property records, including tax assessments and title history, before agreeing to the terms of any contract. Look for comparable homes in your area to verify accurate pricing.

5. Be on alert for red flags, such as “no money down” loans. These and other claims are often code for a scam. Do not click Web-based advertisements making too-good-to-be-true claims, and hang up the phone if someone calls your home using high-pressure sales tactics. Do not pay any fees outright for these offers.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Hit the Slopes in These 7 Late-Season Locales

February 23, 2016 2:00 am

Spring appears to already have sprung in some parts of the country, but there’s still a few more weeks left for winter enthusiasts to enjoy the outdoors. Here are the best winter getaways, plus accommodations, for late-season fun, rounded up Booking.com:

1. Mont-Tremblant, Quebec
Imagine a cosy B&B with all the comforts of home nestled in its beautiful surroundings. Only a 10-minute drive from Mont-Tremblant Ski Resort, Au Beau Soleil Bed & Breakfast is sure to soothe the body (and soul!) after a day on the slopes.

2. Big Sky, Mt.
The western stylings of Shoshone embrace the countryside with great views and private balconies to show off the majestic landscape, while placing you just a short stroll from the mountain village and several ski slopes. Also, Yellowstone National Park is only an hour's drive away.

3. Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler Lodge Hostel is full of fun with a game lounge, large open terrace, soothing sauna and a hot tub. It’s less than 2 miles from your ultimate destination, one of the longest and greatest ski runs in North America.

4. Killington, Vt.
Killington Grand Resort Hotel offers comfort and class in stunning surroundings. If you're game to explore more of this gorgeous area, the famous Killington Peak is only a 3-minute drive away.

5. Sun Peaks, British Columbia
It’s easy to mistake your surroundings for the Swiss Alps when you arrive at Sun Peaks Lodge. This quaint chalet provides all the essentials for a spa day and is only steps away from the chair lifts.

6. Olympic Valley, Calif.
Tucked amongst enormous and enchanting trees, Resort at Squaw Creek is one of the highest resorts in California. Step outside to hit the mountain or take a short drive to one of California's greatest gems, Lake Tahoe. No matter what you're looking for, this area has plenty of winter festivities.

7. Winter Park, Colo.
The gorgeous Zephyr Mountain Lodge offers spacious suites with phenomenal fireplaces and fully equipped kitchens. Take a 4-minute stroll straight to the ski lifts to start your winter adventure.

Source: Booking.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Your Yard: Go Beyond Utility with Retaining Walls

February 23, 2016 2:00 am

(BPT)—Retaining walls are commonly used to address varying degrees of elevation on a property. Did you know they they can also be used to enhance the functionality of an outdoor living space?

“Because segmental retaining walls are both durable and beautiful, landscapers and homeowners can use them to create outdoor seating, raised patios and other features," says Scott Arnold, manager of Villa Landscapes in St. Paul, Minn. “They are the perfect building block to create grill islands, outdoor kitchens and so much more.”

With retaining wall systems, homeowners can create freestanding walls, columns, stairs, planters and other features without the need for special units, Arnold says. Homeowners can create outdoor seating similar to commercial stadium seating, albeit on a smaller scale, with a curved, couch-like seating area, for example.

Retaining walls can also be purposed as offset stairs, patio landings or seat walls. One Minnesota homeowner, who nicknamed her un-mow-able backyard "Billy Goat Hill,” installed retaining walls to gain safe access to her garden.

“The pinned system provides a high ratio of weight per square foot of wall face, plus extreme flexibility in design, says Paul Devine, owner of Devine Design Landscapes in Rosemont, Minn., who headed up the project. “Back-locking lip walls are not as structurally sound as a pinned system, and hollow blocks do not provide the stability required for large tiered walls.”

Retaining walls can extend beyond the backyard, as well. Homeowners can install them as driveway barriers to protect their lawns, as a tiered arrangement to address slope issues, or at property lines to prevent unwanted traffic.

Source: VERSA-LOK

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Home Loan Closing Timeline Averages 50 Days

February 23, 2016 2:00 am

Recently effective regulation has impacted the real estate transaction timeline, extending the time needed to close a loan to an average of 50 days, according to a recent Ellie Mae® report. For homebuyers and sellers, this underscores the need for a real estate professional well versed in the loan process.

“We continue to see the time to close lengthen month over month, now reaching 50 days, which is up four days since TRID [regulation] went into effect,” says Jonathan Corr, president and CEO of Ellie Mae.

The Ellie Mae report shows:

- The average time to close a conventional loan is 49 days.
- The average time to close a purchase loan is 51 days.
- The average time to close a refinance loan is 48 days.
- The average time to close a FHA loan is 51 days.
- The average time to close a VA loan is 53 days.

Ellie Mae data also show that the average FICO credit score on closed loans is decreasing, down recently to 719 from 722. The average FHA refinance FICO score declined, as well, down to 645 from 651.

Source: Ellie Mae

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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