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Michael Gillis

Michael Gillis
701 W. Market Street  Perkasie  PA 18944
Phone:  215-469-0213
Office:  215-453-7653
Fax:  267-354-6911

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Outdoor Kitchens: Layout First, Design Second

May 18, 2015 12:42 am

(Family Features) One of the most popular features in backyard spaces is a fully-equipped kitchen suited for entertaining and outdoor living. But like its interior counterpart, designing an outdoor kitchen can be a challenge.

Your first consideration should be location. Pay attention to the prevailing winds, says Ken Kelly, Kitchen Designs by Ken Kelly. "Wind direction and where the kitchen is located could cause smoke to blow into guests or even into the house through an open window," he says. "Keep the grill downwind of guests."

Your second consideration should be grill placement. “Do you want the cook to face the guests, or look at the scenery?” asks Russ Faulk, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. “When the cook can talk to the guests, the space becomes more social and enjoyable,” he says.

Once you’ve established a wind-friendly location and optimal grill placement, cordon off wet, cold, hot and dry zones, says Faulk. These zones will make prepping food, cooking and cleaning much easier.

"Keep the cold zone next to the wet zone. This makes it easier to move things from the cold zone refrigerator to the wet zone sink to wash them off and get them ready for the grill in the hot zone," he adds.

Zones are especially important if a pool is nearby. "Keep the cold zone nearest to the pool," says Faulk. "It will keep kids who want a cold drink from running past a hot grill."

Don’t forget counter space. Grills should have a minimum of 24 inches of uninterrupted space to one side and 12 inches to the other. This gives the cook room to place platters, cooking utensils and other essentials.

If an outdoor space lacks room for that amount of counter space, "incorporate an open-shelf cabinet below. You get additional 'counter space' by being able to put things on shelves," says Kelly.

With the right planning, homeowners and their guests can enjoy an outdoor kitchen for many years to come.

Source: Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Homebuyers: 7 Ways to Prepare Finances

May 18, 2015 12:42 am

Did you know many homebuyers are financially unprepared to purchase a home? According to a recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), almost half of respondents report being “least prepared” to buy a home – a sign that education is needed, especially for first-time buyers.

Prepare your finances well in advance of searching for a home. Here’s how.

1. Make a Financial Plan

Knowing where to start means conducting a complete review of how your household budget is managed. Comparing income and expenses, reviewing debt, and tracking savings are just a few of the ways to measure readiness for homeownership.

2. Review Your Credit Report and Score

Because a mortgage is the largest debt a person is likely to carry in their life, credit history can be a deal breaker or a dream maker. A credit report may be obtained without a score for free once every 12 months from each of the three bureaus by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

Once a copy is obtained, review it for discrepancies and dispute any differences. Do this at least six months in advance of applying for the loan, allowing time for inaccuracies to be corrected.

Along with the free credit report, a score can be purchased for a small fee. Because the score is critical to mortgage approval and competitive interest rates, it is worth taking a look before submitting the loan application. Lender guidelines vary, but a FICO score of 760 is typically the threshold for the most favorable interest rates.

3. Start Saving

A down payment is typically no less than 20 percent of the purchase price of a home, and coming up with the money may be a significant pain point. A down payment is essential to limit the amount borrowed, as well as increasing the chance of having more favorable mortgage terms.

4. Decide the Type of Loan


After you’ve selected a lender, decide whether to take on a fixed-rate or adjustable-rate loan, which are the most common of the many different types of financing available. For those planning to remain in the home for a long time, a fixed-rate mortgage helps add stability by keeping the payment the same for the life of the loan. Those expecting their stay in the home to be no longer than five to seven years may be better served by an adjustable-rate loan, where they could benefit from lower rates in the short term.

5. Pre-Qualify for a Loan

It is important to know the limits of what is affordable before beginning to shop for a house. A good place to start is by becoming pre-qualified with a lender. This free service can typically be done in-person, online or by phone. The lender will need to gather some financial information and will offer a general idea of the amount of mortgage loan available based on the information provided. This non-binding estimate is the best way to know how much house would be affordable.

6. Become Pre-Approved for a Loan

Applying for a mortgage typically involves a cost and is done by supplying detailed financial documentation to the lender. The lender will use this information in conjunction with information obtained by pulling a credit report to determine the amount and terms for the loan. This is not a final approval for a loan, but is a significant step toward that outcome.

7. Lock in the Rate

If you like the interest rate being offered when pre-approved, lock it in by getting the commitment in writing. It can take time to find a home, negotiate a price and secure funding. Locking a rate for a reasonable period of time helps make room to complete the process without risking a less-favorable interest rate.

Source: NFCC.org

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Talking Credit with Children

May 15, 2015 6:42 am

Financial literacy is important at any age, but especially for middle school-aged children. To facilitate a conversation with your children, start by addressing credit with these four talking points:

1. The credit score is a numerical rating used by lenders to make decisions about granting credit to you.

2. A low credit score can impact your pocketbook. For example, a utility company may require a deposit for lower credit scores before providing service.

3. In addition to whether you pay bills on time, the other factors affecting credit score are:

• How much you owe on credit cards and other loans
• What type of credit you are using
• Whether you have new credit accounts
• How long you have been using credit

4. In general, a poor credit score is defined as anything below 560. An excellent credit score is anything over 760.

Source: Equifax

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Mortgage Rates Trail Year High

May 15, 2015 6:42 am

The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) rose to 3.85 percent, trailing closely behind the year high, according to Freddie Mac’s recent Primary Mortgage Market Survey ® (PMMS®).

“Mortgage rates rose for the third consecutive week as 10-year Treasury yields continued to climb,” says Freddie Mac Deputy Chief Economist Len Kiefer. “The labor market continues to improve with the U.S. economy adding 223,000 jobs in April, a solid rebound from merely 85,000 job gains in March. Also, the unemployment rate dipped to 5.4 percent in April as the participation rate ticked up to 62.8 percent and jobless claims were far less than expected.”

The 15-year FRM average also increased, climbing to 3.07 percent. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.89 percent, representing a slight decrease. The 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM average rose to 2.48 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

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4 Tips for a No-Stress Move

May 15, 2015 6:42 am

(BPT) - Moving can lead to new, exciting possibilities, but it also means leaving behind the people and places you love. While some sentimental items can be taken to your new place, many memories just aren't transportable. To ensure your treasured belongings arrive safely to your new home, be prepared with these no-stress tips.

1. Make Room for New Memories


Taking every item of sentimental value with you to your new home is not always possible. Moving is the perfect opportunity to organize and purge items you don't need or won't use in your new residence. To lessen the load on moving day, hold a garage sale or donate unwanted items to a local charity. If you're trying to sell your current home, the less clutter the better.

Once you've determined which objects will make the move, decide where they'll go in your new place. Make the unpacking process simpler by creating a plan for your new space in advance and pack according to where things will go, not by where they've been.

2. Organize, Don't Agonize

Starting the process early can help avoid nerve-wracking, last-minute packing, and give you time to be a bit nostalgic. Before you begin boxing things up, take videos and photos of each room to preserve your memories of that space. Don't forget to include outdoor areas like a backyard tree house or handprints in the patio cement.

Then, make a checklist of everything you need to accomplish before moving - packing, cleaning, cancelling and restarting utilities, registering the kids for school - and set a timeline for completing each step. Once you're ready to start packing, work room by room to make the task seem more manageable. Start with decorative pieces that you can go without for a month or so, keeping items you need daily for last.

3. Protect Delicate Possessions

To ensure your belongings arrive safely, it's essential to pack possessions with extra care. Safeguard breakables with wrapping materials designed to protect fragile goods, such as bubble wrap cushioning, for the best protection.

Next, pack items in clean, sturdy containers in a variety of sizes. Use large boxes for bulky, yet lighter furnishings, such as pillows and blankets, and place heavier objects in smaller boxes to avoid unnecessary strain. Seal boxes securely with a durable packaging tape.

Be sure to label boxes clearly, marking them on the sides of the boxes, not the top. This step makes it obvious what's inside, even if they're stacked. You also can use different colored or printed packaging tapes to color code each room - red for the bedroom, blue for the kitchen.

4. Have Help on Hand

If you’re moving to a location close to your old home, recruit friends and family to help with packing and unloading on moving day. You'll love showing off your new place, and it'll help with the transition to see that loved ones aren't too far away to make the trip.

Put together an "open me first" box with the gear you'll need immediately, such as tools to assemble furniture, cleaning supplies and shelf liner for drawers, closets and kitchen cabinets.

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Eliminating Electrical Fire Hazards at Home

May 14, 2015 12:39 am

While electricity plays a major role in our daily lives, we often take its power and the conveniences it provides - along with its potential for fire-related hazards - for granted. According to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics, electrical fires resulted in $1.48 billion in property damage in a five-year period. To mitigate risks for electrical fire, protect your home and loved ones with these safety tips.

• Have all electrical work done by a qualified electrician.

• Only plug one heat-producing appliance (such as a coffee maker, toaster, space heater, etc.) into a receptacle outlet at a time.

• Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are a kind of circuit breaker that shuts off electricity when a dangerous condition occurs. Consider having them installed in your home by a qualified electrician.

• Use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to reduce the risk of shock. GFCIs shut off an electrical circuit when it becomes a shock hazard. They should be installed inside the home in bathrooms, kitchens, garages and basements. All outdoor receptacles should be GFCI-protected.

• Test AFCIs and GFCIs once a month to make sure they’re working properly.

• Check electrical cords to make sure they’re not running across doorways or under carpets.

• Extension cords are intended for temporary use. Have a qualified electrician add more receptacle outlets so you don’t have to use extension cords continuously.

• Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on the lamp or fixture. A sticker will indicate the maximum wattage light bulb to use.

Source: NFPA

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Many Renters Underestimate Insurance Needs

May 14, 2015 12:39 am

Though many renter’s insurance policies are affordable, more than half of Americans who rent their homes or apartments do not have coverage, according to a recent InsuranceQuotes.com survey. Just 37 percent of renter respondents have renter’s insurance. Why the indifference?

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners reports the average cost of renter’s insurance is just $187 per year. But the majority of renter respondents say they lack renter’s insurance because it is too expensive – 71 percent believe a policy will cost more than $250 a year, and 22 percent believe a policy will cost $1,000 or more a year.

Other respondents report not needing insurance because their rental home or apartment is secure, their landlord has insurance or they don’t have enough property to insure.

“Landlord’s insurance typically doesn’t cover renters’ belongings,” says Laura Adams, InsuranceQuotes.com. “And even in a highly secure area, theft, fire, water damage and other accidents can still occur and are costly expenses to pay for out-of-pocket. Renter’s insurance is an inexpensive financial safety net that every renter should have.”

Source: InsuranceQuotes.com

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Hurricane Season: 3 Property Protection Tips

May 14, 2015 12:39 am

When it comes to hurricane season, just one storm can devastate a community, state or entire region. To lower your risk, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) advises protecting the areas of your home most susceptible to hurricane damage: entry points, the roof and the outdoors.

To protect your property from damage caused by high winds and wind-driven rain:

Fortify Windows and Doors – Protect all windows and doors from high winds and flying debris. Failure of a large window or door can result in pressurization inside the home, and potential damage. Attention should be given to all windows, entry doors, sliding glass doors, and garage doors.

Strengthen Your Roof – The roof is a home’s first line of defense against Mother Nature, making it the most important and most vulnerably access point. Roof cover damage occurs in the vast majority of wind-related claims, and a damaged roof can allow wind and rain to enter your home, resulting in even more damage. Consult with a certified roofing professional and your insurance company before making repairs or replacements.

Prepare Your Surroundings – Limit possible sources of wind-borne debris by surveying your building’s surroundings before a storm and trimming overhanging trees and removing anything that could potentially be picked up by high winds. Keep in mind that even seemingly heavy objects can become flying missiles during strong hurricanes.

Source: IBHS

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5 Obstacles to Healthy Living

May 13, 2015 12:39 am

Despite the fact that half of Americans desire to lose weight, just 26 percent are actively trying to accomplish that goal, according to a recent Gallup Health and Healthcare Survey.

"It's an unfortunate lack of self-awareness," says Dr. Wayne Briner, a psychology professor at Ashford University. Briner explains that outside influences can motivate unhealthy eating choices. Put simply, all diets work, barring these psychological and sociological factors.

Healthy eating isn't a priority. Healthy eating controls weight, improves mood, boosts energy, and supports wellness. While we all know healthy food choices are in our best interest, convenience frequently trumps good judgment. If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, make healthy eating a priority day in and day out. Eventually, good nutrition will become a habit.

Healthy eating takes more time. We live in a culture where speed is essential and faster is better. Many people eat on the run, sandwiching fast food into their busy lifestyles. But health food takes time to prepare, to chop, to broil, to toss and mix and bake. We have to take time to be healthy, to slow down and arrange time for proper meals and exercise.

People underestimate their food consumption.
For a clear picture of food consumption, keep a food diary of what you eat – everything consumed in one week, including portions and number of servings. A cafe latte on the way to the office? Write it down. Fifteen Chili Cheese Fritos? That's three servings, 480 calories. Write it down. The results may astound you.

People overestimate their physical activity. According to the Mayo Clinic, "As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more. Want to aim even higher? You can achieve more health benefits, including increased weight loss, if you ramp up your exercise to 300 minutes a week."

People confuse living to eat and eating to live. Eating, drinking, and being merry doesn't always lend itself to healthy food choices. Most beers, for instance, average 150 calories, with some craft beers topping 200. We're all human and we're all likely to indulge on occasion. Before you reward yourself with indulgences, balance it out with healthy eating habits.

Source: Ashford University

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Cut Costs at Home with a Natural Air Conditioner

May 13, 2015 12:39 am

Cutting costs through improved energy-efficiency continues to be a priority for homeowners. Did you know there is a natural air conditioner that can save help you save big in cooling costs?

A mature shade tree can block up to 90 percent of solar radiation, which translates to a significant reduction in home cooling costs, according to the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). In fact, computer models devised by the U.S. Department of Energy predict proper placement of as few as three shade trees will save an average household $100-$250 in energy costs each year.

The TCIA recommends planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of your home, where the sun’s rays are most intense. For homeowners in temperate climates, deciduous trees with high, spreading crowns should be planted to the south of the home to provide maximum summertime shading. Those in colder climates should avoid this step so as not to block winter sun. Trees with crowns lower to the ground are more appropriate to the west, where shade is needed from late afternoon sun.

For protection from storm conditions throughout the year, opt for slow-growing trees which tend to live longer and have deeper roots.

Tree shrubs and groundcover plants can also shade the ground and pavement around your home. This reduces heat radiation and cools the air before it reaches the home’s walls and windows. Use a large bush or row of shrubs to shade a patio or driveway. (Note: Shrubs planted close to the house will fill in rapidly, but avoid allowing dense foliage to grow immediately next to a home.) Plant a hedge to shade a sidewalk, or build a trellis for climbing vines to shade a patio area.

No matter what you decide, be sure to consult a certified tree care professional before planting or removing trees and other plantings on your property.

Source: TCIA

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