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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

Have Tips, Will Travel: Stay Healthy on the Road This Summer

May 3, 2016 2:48 am

‘Tis the season for summer travel—unless a health crisis derails your plans.

Of all the factors to consider when planning a trip, you are the most important, says Dr. Christopher Sanford, travel health expert and author of The Merck Manuals, a medical resource for practitioners and consumers.

“When preparing for a trip, most travelers closely consider hotels, restaurants and itineraries, but few plan for health contingencies,” says Dr. Sanford, who operates a travel clinic at the University of Washington. “Travelers should consult with their primary care doctor to make sure they're up to date on routine and travel immunizations.

“There are also some basic rules of thumb that travelers should keep in mind before every trip,” Dr. Sandford adds:

1. Pack a travel kit.

A basic travel kit should contain first-aid supplies, pain relievers, decongestants, antacids, antibiotics, hydrocortisone cream and an antibiotic cream. Pack any medicine you've used in the past year, and keep all medications in the original pharmacy packaging to avoid questions at security. Bring these on board instead of checking them in your luggage—you don't want your medications to end up on a different continent!

2. Gather medical documents.

Keep a full list of regular medications handy while you're traveling. If you have a chronic condition, bring copies of recent medical records. If you have a heart condition, for example, you may benefit from having had a recent EKG if you end up in the emergency room with chest pain on your trip.

3. Activate and hydrate.

If you'll be traveling in a cramped plane, train or car, you may be at risk for clots forming from long periods of inactivity. Reduce this risk by taking frequent breaks to walk and stretch, or even by doing simple calf movements and exercises in your seat. If you'll be flying to your destination, don't skip the beverage cart—dehydration is exacerbated by dry air and can lead to fatigue, headaches and digestive issues.

4. Eat and drink right.

Evaluate the safety of local food in any country you visit—digestive issues are common throughout the developing world, for instance. Although it's not possible to eliminate the risk entirely, if you're traveling to a low-income area, try to avoid consuming food from roadside stands, ice, raw foods, salads and tap water.

5. Manage stress.

Airports and train stations can be high-stress environments, so get there early to avoid a last-minute rush to your gate or platform. If you're traveling with family and expecting prolonged contact with family members you don't see very often, plan regular breaks. Taking time to exercise or just have down time will reduce stress commonly associated with large family gatherings, as will eight hours of sleep per night.

Source: The Merck Manuals

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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DIY and ROI: Pricing the Cost and Value of Garage Doors

May 3, 2016 2:48 am

Is that home improvement really worth its cost? New garage doors may be!

According to ContractorQuotes.us, a Web-based contractor referral service, a garage door replacement can increase your home’s value by an average of $1,410. The project costs an average of $1,595, recouping 88.4 percent of your investment.

One pitfall, however, can skew those numbers unfavorably. Homeowners should avoid making these common mistakes when selecting new garage doors, the site advises:

• Selecting a style that clashes with your home – Like the front door, garage doors are visible to passersby. Choose a design that complements your home’s exterior style.

• Neglecting the weather – Are strong winds common in your area? If so, make sure to select a solid garage door that withstands the elements.

• Installing a garage door without insulation – Insulated garage doors attached to the home lend greater energy-efficiency overall. They keep both cold and warm weather out, resulting in less expense on heating and cooling.

• Forgoing a professional – Seek the help of a professional to install the new doors. Dealing with the springs can be dangerous for inexperienced homeowners.

The site features more data related to other home improvements, as well, including how much you can expect to pay for a project, as well as how much of that investment you can expect to regain.

In our next segment, we'll take a look at the value of replacing entry doors. ‘Till then!

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Hoping to Buy a Home? 3 Ways to Up Your Credit Game

May 3, 2016 2:48 am

Planning to purchase a home in the next year? Don’t let poor credit dash your hopes!

Subprime credit—generally between 300 and 600 on the VantageScore scale—can inhibit a buyer’s ability to secure a mortgage. Recent research from TransUnion®, one of the three major credit bureaus, shows many first-time buyers, particularly millennials, are lacking in the credit department: 43 percent of would-be millennial buyers surveyed by the agency have a subprime credit score.

“Credit scores are a crucial component of the home-buying process, impacting everything from the size of a mortgage payment to the interest rate on a home loan,” says Ken Chaplin, TransUnion’s senior vice president. “People with subprime credit may face financial barriers to homeownership, making it difficult for their dream home to become a reality.

“The home-buying process begins well before you start looking for real estate,” adds Chaplin. “A credit score, which significantly impacts the home financing process, is built on good spending habits and a pattern of responsible borrowing established over a lifetime.”

To better your financial circumstances—and your chances of being approved for a mortgage—Chaplin advises the following tips:

Check your credit report first. Mortgage lenders will look at your credit report and score when you apply for a mortgage. To catch issues before they do, check your report three months before starting the home-buying process. Bear in mind your credit score is built over a lifetime of spending. Keep an eye on your score and track how your spending habits affect it.

Build credit. Those with low or no credit must build a healthy credit score. This includes paying all bills on time each month and maintaining a low credit utilization ratio, which is a ratio of how much credit you use out of your available credit limit. Other ways to build credit include factoring existing payments into your report, such as student loans (automatically included) and rent.

Do your homework. Research mortgages and interest rates. While placing a larger down payment will lower your monthly mortgage payment, don’t put down more than you can afford. Keep in mind, also, that you will need money for closing costs, including a home inspection, before you can purchase your home.

Remember, Chaplin says, that improving your credit can take time. If your finances aren’t in shape for a home now, that doesn’t mean homeownership isn’t a realistic goal for the future. Keep an open mind!

Source: TransUnion®

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Money Tree: 3 Tips to Grow Healthy Financial Roots

May 2, 2016 2:45 am

Many of us are so out of shape financially, we pull a muscle just thinking about saving money, former Wall Street insider Eric McWhinnie observes. In fact, according to a recent study, just 37 percent of us have enough money saved to cover one of life’s unexpected expenses—no money trees here!

If McWhinnie’s observation seems too close for comfort, shore up your financial roots with these tips.

1. Pay Yourself First – After paying bills first for most of your life, it can be tough to break the habit. Instead of paying yourself last—assuming there is anything left over at the end of a pay period—start paying yourself first. Use an automatic deposit plan to draw 10 percent out of every paycheck and deposit it into savings before you pay the bills. Chances are, you won’t even miss it.

2. Track Your Spending – We tend to ignore our financial health in favor of convenience. Tracking every dollar you spend for at least one month will show you exactly where you could—and should—cut expenses. In turn, look at your fixed expenses, and start negotiating with service providers (think auto insurance or cable) for better rates.

3. Make Your Own Rules – Personal finance is aptly named. You get to decide what’s best. Recognize the insight that sound financial advice can give you, but bend it to make it work for you. Pundits advise, for example, spending around 30 percent of your income on housing, but you may be able to spend less than that and save the difference. The “rules” are to avoid credit cards, but if you use them responsibly, you can benefit from the cash-back, air miles or other perks they offer.

Above all, the key, says McWhinnie, is to set your goals and then find the best ways to meet them. With that philosophy in mind, you’ll have a money tree ripe for financial health—on your terms.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Fight the Mold: Must-Know Prevention Tips

May 2, 2016 2:45 am

Mold is both hazardous to health and damaging to property. Identifying and removing it can be challenging for homeowners without experience in remediation and restoration.

“Mold isn't something most people think about until they experience it in their own home,” says Peter Duncanson of ServiceMaster Restore and The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC). “It's important to beat mold at its own game. This means taking steps to prevent mold from growing, or calling in an expert right away to stop mold in its tracks once it begins to grow in your home.” 

Many homeowners wrongly believe they can eliminate mold with bleach.

“Many retail products will change how mold looks, and you might think it's gone because you don't see it,” Duncanson explains. “The only way to get rid of mold completely and safely—and to be sure you're protecting your property and health from additional risk—is to have trained professionals physically remove it from the affected area.”

Duncanson says there are many steps homeowners can take before the need arises for a professional. These are:

• Eliminate food sources. Vacuum frequently to keep dust—a primary mold food source—to a minimum. Bear in mind that plants and terrariums may also be sources.

• Ensure adequate airflow and reduce moisture. To control ventilation and lessen moisture in the bathroom, open the door and windows or run an exhaust fan while showering. Invest in a dehumidifier for the remaining rooms in the home, if possible. You may need more than one if you live in a large home.

• Clean vents. Each month, clean HVAC baseboards and/or floorboards and bathroom vents with a HEPA-filtration vacuum. If you spot a section of mold, do not use the vacuum to remove it—this can exacerbate the issue.

If you come across larger swaths of mold, refrain from using a fan to dry it out—this can release spores into other areas of your home. To prevent costlier damage, call a professional as soon as possible.

Source: ServiceMaster Restore

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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The 3 Ds of Staging

May 2, 2016 2:45 am

(BPT)—Staging your home ensures a speedy, profitable sale—if the senses are considered. Prospective buyers interpret a potential home through all of their receptors, and that includes senses like sight and smell.

To stage to this effect, remember the three Ds:

Deep-Clean the Selling Points

Kitchens and bathrooms sell homes—but they must be immaculate to do so. In the kitchen, clean inside appliances that are staying put: the dishwasher, oven and refrigerator. Replace the filter in the range hood, if you have one, and polish windowpanes to a sparkling finish. In the bathrooms, de-scale glass shower doors and showerheads and scrub the grout. Clean metal drain grates, and add in a few drops of sweet-smelling essential oils to maintain a “freshly-cleaned” aroma.

Deter Odors

Most households have their own unique scent, likely indistinguishable to the seller, but potentially a turn-off to buyers. Neutralize smells, malodorous or otherwise, with a naturally-derived fragrance, such as lemon or eucalyptus. If possible, warm up a buyer-friendly combination of scents (think cinnamon, clove, orange and vanilla) on the stove just before a showing—it’s low-cost, fast, and heightens the “welcome home” atmosphere.

De-Clutter “Invisible” Areas

Many sellers fall into the trap of staging only the “visible” areas of their home—but a discerning buyer will look at the “invisible,” too, such as cabinets, closets, drawers and the garage. Disorganized, full-to-bursting invisible areas can read cheap, cramped or poor-quality to buyers, which can lead to low-ball offers, or, worse, no offers at all. De-cluttering is particularly paramount in the garage, where buyers are seeking a sense of spaciousness. If your garage is loaded with moving boxes, consider storing them in a rental unit while your home is on the market.

Source: Aura Cacia

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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The Ins and Outs of Travel Insurance

April 29, 2016 2:33 am

Travel insurance covers business travelers, vacationers, tourists and other related parties from unplanned occurrences before or during a trip.

“For many consumers worried that an extreme weather event or political unrest might affect their vacation plans, travel insurance can provide useful coverage,” says Jeanne M. Salvatore, chief communications officer of the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). “But it’s important to understand exactly what it covers and when it makes sense to purchase it.”

To determine if travel insurance is right for you, ask yourself key questions, Salvatore says.

1. If I had to cancel my vacation, would I lose the money I paid in advance?

2. Is there a chance severe weather could interrupt my vacation?

3. If the tour operator were to go bankrupt, would I receive a refund?

4. Is there a chance I will be injured because I plan to be active on my vacation?

5. Will I be traveling with small children or older relatives who might have special needs?

6. Might I need special assistance while on vacation, such as an English-speaking doctor or dentist?


If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you may be a candidate for travel insurance, says Salvatore.

Most travel insurance policies include three basic types of coverage: 

24-Hour Assistance is provided by most travel insurance companies. It helps travelers find doctors, arrange accommodations, contact their families or get other forms of assistance in case of an emergency.

Medical Insurance and Medical Evacuation provides coverage if you are injured while traveling—for example, being airlifted off a mountain due to a skiing or hiking accident—or in the event you get seriously ill and need to be flown home. Some commercial airlines require very sick passengers to travel on a stretcher with a medical escort; your travel insurer will usually make arrangements for this.

Trip Cancellation, Interruption or Delay provides coverage if you need to cancel a trip due to sickness, a death in the family, bad weather, delayed shipment of luggage or another disaster listed in the policy. In addition, if you become seriously ill or are injured during the trip, some policies will provide reimbursement for the unused portion of the vacation. (There may be exclusions for pre-existing conditions, so check your policy carefully.)

Some (but not all) policies may provide coverage if the cruise line or tour operator goes out of business. And, for an additional fee, some insurers offer a “Cancel for Any Reason” provision, which provides coverage if you cancel a trip due to “the fear of something that may happen,” such as civil unrest or a forecasted natural disaster.

Other travel-related coverage includes:

• Accidental Death, should you or a member of your group perish during the course of a trip; and
• Luggage Insurance or Personal Effects, which provides protection if your luggage and/or personal belongings are lost, stolen or damaged.

The cost of a travel insurance policy is based upon the age of the traveler, the specific coverage selected, and the cost of the trip. On average, standard travel insurance policies cost about 5-7 percent of the total cost.

Keep in mind travel insurance is different from the cancellation waivers that many cruise and tour operators offer. Waivers are not insurance; they are relatively inexpensive and provide coverage if you have to cancel the trip, but come with many restrictions. Waivers are not regulated by state insurance departments.

Be sure to check your health and homeowners insurance policies, as well as your credit card company, to see what travel-related coverage you may already have.

There are many different travel insurance companies and types of policies. Before choosing one, talk to your insurance professional or your travel agent and compare companies, policy coverage, benefits and prices. Visit InsureMyTrip.com to review your options. Additional information is available from the U.S. Travel Insurance Association at www.USTIA.org.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Grants Rolling Out to Help Eliminate Home Lead Hazards

April 29, 2016 2:33 am

More than $100 million in grants will be made available to help eliminate dangerous lead-based paint hazards from the homes of lower-income families, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced recently.

These grants, administered through the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes, are intended to protect young children from lead poisoning, as well as provide an opportunity for states and local communities to establish programs that assess and remediate lead-based paint and other housing-related health hazards.

According to HUD, unsafe homes affect the health of millions of in the U.S., of all income levels, geographic areas and walks of life.

The housing improvements made with these grants will help prevent illnesses and injuries, reduce associated health care and social services costs, lessen absentee rates for children in school and adults at work, and cut stress, all of which help enhance overall quality of life.

The grants are being offered through HUD's Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control Program, totaling $43 million, and through its Lead Hazard Reduction Demonstration Program, totaling $45 million.

HUD is also providing nearly $13 million in healthy homes supplemental funds to promote, identify and remediate additional housing-related health hazards.

HUD's Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes promotes local efforts to eliminate dangerous lead paint and other housing-related health and safety hazards from lower-income homes, stimulate private sector investment in lead hazard control, support cutting-edge research on methods for assessing and controlling housing-related health and safety hazards, and educate the public about the dangers of hazards in the home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Clean Sweep: Tips for a Healthier Home

April 29, 2016 2:33 am

(Family Features)—At their core, healthy homes are allergen- and toxin-free. To maintain a healthy home, it’s important to deep-clean without introducing more harmful pollutants into the indoor environment. The tips below, courtesy of the Oreck Corporation, will help you do just that.

• Purify indoor air. Catch dust before it settles with an air purifier. Indoor air can be up to five times dirtier than outdoor air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). An air purifier can remove up to 99 percent of airborne allergens, dust and odors, as well as manages humidity, to ensure continuously clean air.

• Vacuum carpets regularly. Carpets are prone to trapping allergens and other offenders, so to keep those at bay, commit to frequent vacuuming. A high-powered, filtration-bag vacuum can collect up to 99 percent of dirt and dust particles, including those not visible to the naked eye.

• Use natural cleaning agents. Some household cleaners—including fragrance-laced sprays—contain chlorine, which poses health risks. Look for natural cleaning products, or produce your own with baking soda, peroxide or vinegar.

• Launder linens. It’s easy to overlook linens and upholstery, but these materials can harbor the most pollutants in the home. Bedding, curtains, cushions and throw pillows are all common culprits. To part with unwanted particles, wash linens in hot water regularly, and steam-clean upholstery, if possible.

These tips will help maintain a cleaner, fresher—and most importantly, healthier—home for years to come.

Source: Oreck Corporation

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Remodeling? High-Ranking Kitchen Brands to Consider

April 28, 2016 12:30 am

Quality materials matter in any remodel—and when renovating the kitchen, no material matters more than the cabinets.

“One of the most critical times in a remodel or new construction is when customers order their kitchen cabinets,” says Greg Truex, senior director of the at-home practice at J.D. Power.

J.D. Power recently released their annual report of the kitchen cabinetmakers ranked highest in customer satisfaction, rated by factors including design, operational performance and price. The top five are:

1. Thomasville
2. SEKTION (IKEA)
3. American Woodmark
4. KraftMaid
5. Hampton Bay

Also included in the report are the purchasing behaviors of kitchen remodelers. Notably, 66 percent are first-time kitchen cabinet buyers, and 34 percent have not purchased a kitchen cabinet in nine years—possibly signaling a correlation between the rankings and the preferences of newer homeowners.

Source: J.D. Power

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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