RE/MAX 440
Michael Gillis

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

My Blog

A Record Number of Homeowners Are Starting Their Own Vegetable Gardens This Spring

April 15, 2013 3:04 am

According to Hometalk, a social network dedicated to home and garden projects, more American homeowners are starting their own vegetable gardens this spring. According to the Garden Writers Association Foundation (GWAF) 2013 Winter Gardening Trends Research Report, "The number of households growing edible plants is expected to increase by 11.3% for 2013." According to a survey by The National Gardening Association, food gardening in the U.S. is on the rise.

Factors such as the rising price of food crops, concerns about food crop safety, and a new rise in digital gardening information have contributed to the upsurge of households growing edible plants. From university extension service websites to interactive gardening forums, more information and better information about growing vegetables are free and accessible. While the same old gardening challenges persist, like insect control and soil chemistry, Internet gardening information gives first time gardeners a leg up. Of course, gardening books always existed, but a homeowner would have to go to the library or book store to seek out a gardening book, which means that he'd already need to be interested in starting a vegetable garden. The Web, through social networks and viral blog posts, has introduced the idea of DIY vegetable gardening to the desktops of people who would never have considered it.

"Vegetable gardening is one of the most popular topics on Hometalk. Nothing compares to the excitement of seeing your hard work bear fruit (or vegetables!) so naturally, gardeners are inclined to share those success stories with like-minded people," says Miriam Illions, the director of Community Development on Hometalk.com. "Through these posts, you learn the specifics of how they achieved their success. You can then implement great ideas that might take you years to figure out through trial and error on your own."

Source: HomeTalk

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Protect Young Eyes in the Technology Age

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

(Family Features)—Whether it’s a tablet with an educational purpose or a big screen displaying the latest video game, the use of electronic technology is skyrocketing among kids. In fact, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, children ages eight to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours with electronics every day.

Unfortunately, all of that screen time can cause eye fatigue, and ultimately have an impact on your child’s overall vision and eye health.

To view things closer, our eyes automatically adjust by drawing inward; our pupils get smaller to focus, and our eye muscles adjust so we can see a clear image. As a result, extended use of electronic screens can cause tired, blurry or irritated eyes.

Intense focus on a video screen also leads to a diminished blink rate, which can result in eye injuries.

Although there is no scientific evidence that computers and handheld electronic devices directly cause vision problems, using these devices wisely can help prevent eye fatigue and strain, as well as associated headaches, blurred vision and dry eyes.

To help protect your child’s vision, consider these tips from Ameritas, a leading provider of dental, vision and hearing care plans:

Know that prolonged use of electronic devices can exacerbate underlying eye conditions, so electronics should be used in moderation. Limit screen time to two hours or less a day (including watching TV, playing video games and using mobile phones).

Encourage intentional blinking while electronic devices are in use to help refresh eyes with natural moisture that helps prevent bacterial infections, dry spots and corneal breakdown.

Reduce additional eye strain by managing glare from windows and using low-watt bulbs in light fixtures.

Keep computer screens 20 to 28 inches away from the face.

Practice a rule of 20s to give eyes a rest. Every 20 minutes, ask your child to look at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds before refocusing attention up close again.

Move around and change positions periodically while using a device.

Watch for signs of eyestrain while electronic devices are in use, such as squinting, frowning at the screen or rubbing eyes.

If vision problems or discomfort arise, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor for a professional evaluation.

When taking into account time at the office in front of a computer screen, many adults regularly use electronic devices for as long as, or even longer than, their children. Following the same advice not only sets a good example, but it can help protect your own eye health.

Source: www.ameritasinsight.com

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Avoid Common Mistakes to Keep Aggressive Garden Monsters at Bay

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

Before putting spade to soil this spring, take care to avoid common garden mistakes. Plunging headlong into horticulture without thinking can lead to runaway lamb's ears, weeds gone wild or unwelcome garden guests and pests.

Following are practical tips from the gardening experts at Preen.com:

• Invasive plants. What might look like a find (so pretty and such a fast grower) may actually be a garden monster. Invasive plants are spread by runners or underground stems. Aggressive and extremely difficult to remove, these plants spread to choke out other plants. Offenders include chameleon plant, lamb's ear, lily-of the-valley and goutweed. To grow desirable invasives like mint or bamboo, plant in deeply-lined beds or large pots.

• Weeds gone wild. Weeds are the ultimate invasives, adapted to the local habitat and greedy for territory. To stop them, tackle their seeds. Remove existing weeds before they go to seed (each plant can produce thousands). Then apply a layer of mulch and sprinkle a weed preventer such as Preen on top. Mulch blocks the sunlight that weed seeds need to sprout. Preen stops the seeds in the mulch itself from sprouting for up to three to four months, plus those brought in by wind and birds.

• Inviting trouble. Some plants are more than pretty—they're attractive. Those allergic to bee stings should avoid bee-magnets such as buddleia bushes or monarda (aka bee balm), zinnia or salvia flowers. Where deer are abundant, avoid offering deer-candy such as hostas, tulips, yews and azaleas. Holly and euonymous shrubs don't attract bees as pollinators, they attract flies.

• Right plant, wrong place. Read labels. That adorable shrub won't look so cute by the house when it grows to 10 feet tall and eight feet wide. Labels detail light and water needs, so shade-loving Impatiens don't die in full sun, and geraniums, which like dry soil, won't rot in wet places.

• More is not always better. Except during droughts, more plants are killed by too much water than not enough. Most established plants prefer about one inch of rainfall or irrigation every week or so. Too much water can cause rot or weak growth. Also, too much fertilizer won't make plants more robust; it can burn and kill them.

Source: Preen.com

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Consumers' Positive Housing Attitudes Withstand Fiscal Concerns

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

Consumer confidence in the housing recovery remains firm in the face of budget sequestration and other fiscal policy concerns, according to Fannie Mae’s March 2013 National Housing Survey results. Although more Americans indicate greater pessimism regarding their personal finances and the economy, they continue to demonstrate optimism across key housing market measures. The share of consumers who believe home prices will go up in the next year held steady at 48 percent, the all-time survey high. Also reaching a survey high, 26 percent of respondents believe now is a good time to sell a home—nearly twice the share compared to the same time last year.

“Despite an uptick in concern expressed about the direction of the economy, it appears consumers believe that the housing recovery will march on,” says Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. “Housing sentiment remains unshaken from the highs of the last few months. At the same time, perhaps driven by the experience of the past several years, consumers remain cautious in their housing outlook. While the survey shows a string of 17 positive one-year-ahead home price expectations through March, the average expected gains have remained below 3 percent. By comparison, main measures of national home prices in early 2013 posted year-over-year gains of at least double or triple that figure.”

Survey Highlights

Homeownership and Renting

• The average 12-month home price change expectation fell slightly from last month’s survey high to 2.7 percent.
• At 48 percent, the share of respondents who believe home prices will go up in the next 12 months held steady at the survey high, while the share who believe home prices will go down remained at the survey low of 10 percent.
• The percentage of respondents who think mortgage rates will go up increased to 46 percent, the highest level since May 2011, while those who think they will go down dipped slightly to 6 percent.
• Twenty-six percent of respondents say it is a good time to sell a house, up 1 percentage point over February and the highest level since the survey’s inception in June 2010.
• At 4.1 percent, the average 12-month rental price change expectation increased 0.2 percent over February.
• Fifty percent of those surveyed say home rental prices will go up in the next 12 months, holding steady at the highest level since the survey’s inception for the third straight month.
• The share of respondents who said they would buy if they were going to move fell 3 percentage points to 64 percent.

The Economy and Household Finances

• At 35 percent, the share of respondents who say the economy is on the right track decreased 3 percentage points from February.
• The percentage of respondents who expect their personal financial situation to get worse over the next 12 months rose by 4 percentage points to 21 percent.
• Twenty percent of respondents say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago, a slight decrease from last month.
• Thirty-two percent reported significantly higher household expenses compared to 12 months ago, a slight increase over February.

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Lower Your Food Budget

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

Economists say most American families spend about 12 percent of their monthly income on groceries—but, unless you adjust your buying habits, the spend may increase as prices go up and children grow into hungry teens.

According to supermarket shopping analyst Mindy Hannigan, putting a few planned shopping patterns into place can help you ease your food budget downward.

• Start with the deals – Check supermarket mailers and online sites for weekly specials. Plan the family’s meals around the foods on sale each week.
• Shop with a menu – Once you determine what’s on sale, shop with a written menu and try to build two meals around a single purchase, such as a roasted pork loin one evening and BBQ beef sandwiches made from leftovers the next.
• Set a budget – Keep track of your grocery spending for at least six weeks. Add it up and divide by six to find your weekly average. Try not to exceed that average without a good reason such as additional houseguests to feed or a large, family holiday feast.
Shave the average – Once you know your usual spend, challenge yourself to lower it by 10 percent. Use coupons if you don’t already. Try store brands instead of labels you know. Search for new recipes, like casseroles and main dish salads, which can help you stretch one can of tuna or a couple of chicken breasts into a satisfying family dinner.
• Shop alone – Shopping with kids almost always results in extras tossed into the basket.
• Stick to a routine – Follow the same traffic pattern in the store you shop most often. Since you know where things are, doing so will help you grab just the items on your list instead of reaching for items you may notice for the first time.

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Must-Have Features to Maximize a Home's Profit Potential

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

From crown molding to faux painting to door handles and cabinet handles/knobs with modern finishes, to more obvious upgrades such as appliances, window, counter, cabinet and floor treatments, to swimming pools and surround sound wiring…any functional or beautification enhancement to a home are considerations in establishing its true value and strategic sale price.

Consider these property value-enhancing upgrade ideas from Robert Jenson, a real estate professional from Las Vegas:

- Commercial-grade appliances in a kitchen, along with dual appliances such as ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators and freezers, add greatly to resale value and are always a desirable upgrade.

- The "outdoor living room" concept is extremely popular right now. Whether a palapa, gazebo or other covered section, an outdoor furnished lounge area complete with wiring for lighting, fans, TV and surround sound, fire pit/fire place, and built in BBQ grill will add tremendous appeal. Water features will take this asset to the next level.

- Other custom upgrades and finishing such as front entry (or panty) doors with decorative glass inlays, decorative wrought iron stairway balusters, and faux painting treatments will readily set a home apart from the pack...particularly a track home in a master planned community.
- Fixtures should be considered even beyond the kitchen and bath. Door handles, for example, with modern finishes such as brushed nickel, are a great way to add custom appeal to an interior.

- Granite countertops need not be reserved for the kitchen. Master bathrooms in particular, if not all baths in the house, should utilize some kind of stone counter—marble, granite, travertine, etc.—for a particularly notable enhancement that is sure to differentiate a home from others on the market.

For homeowners considering an addition or enhancement, speak with a real estate professional to learn more about how you can enhance your property's value.

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10 Tips for Enjoying Your Backyard This Spring and Summer

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

As temperatures heat up across the country, you can make sure this is the best summer ever with the following 10 tips, time-savers, water-care ideas, and maintenance and safety suggestions for backyard living.

1 – Safety first. Follow a few common sense rules in the backyard and around the pool. Keep each child within arm's length at all times, designate an adult as water watcher, ensure that the pool's fence is always locked, and install both gate and pool alarms to alert you to unsupervised pool use.

2 – Use plants to dress up the landscape. A bit of backyard greenery can be both pretty and functional. Use shrubs for form, foliage-heavy plants for color, and sturdy perennials for reliability. Plenty of pretty perennials, such as coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, require little tending and offer cheery blooms throughout the growing season.

3 – Add years to backyard furnishings. If mildew spots appear on outside chairs and tables, wash the fabric according to manufacturer directions and dry in the sun. Then mix together equal parts lemon juice and salt; spread on the stain. Dry in the sun again and rinse thoroughly.

4 – Organize backyard toys and tools. Two simple storage rules for keeping backyard clutter to a minimum: air out wet things by storing them in big mesh bags or open-weave crates; toss all the little bits—sunscreen, dive toys, etc.—into a clear plastic shoe organizer hung on the fence where everyone can easily find them.

5 – Stay healthy with a water workout. According to the Centers for Disease Control, just 21 minutes a day of exercising in a pool can decrease your risk of chronic disease. If swimming laps doesn't excite you, there are other great ways to get moving. Try kickboxing using water as the resistance and enjoy the benefits of strength, endurance and balance. Depending on intensity, a typical water exercise session of 40 to 50 minutes can burn up to 600 calories.

6 – Maintain a perfect pool. A pool filled with cloudy water equals no fun. Fortunately, there's a pool-care strategy—circulation, filtration, cleaning, testing and chemistry—that equals a stellar pool season. Maintaining a pool, its equipment and beautiful water requires proper water treatment. Make sure to complete the proper water testing and upkeep a regular care schedule for your pool.

7 – Convert an ordinary salt pool into a backyard oasis. Try using a special blend of minerals, pool equipment protectors, water enhancers and pH adjusters that all work to make silky, relaxing water.

8 – Soak in a sensational spa. A backyard spa can offer the same soothing effects as a professional spa with a few easy, affordable ideas. Place flameless LED candles around the edge of the spa. Take tunes into the spa with a floating speaker that connects wirelessly to an MP3 player. Add a soothing scent to the water with single-use aromatherapy packs.

9 – Make a smaller footprint on the Earth. In order to be more environmentally friendly, make sure to always keep pool chemicals properly balanced. Overworked filters and motors waste energy and hike utility bills.

10 – Help pets swim safely. It may seem like fun to let the dog paddle around, but before you let a pooch jump in, make sure he can get out without damaging the pool or hurting himself. Also check with the vet—swimming in a pool should be appropriate for the breed. Finally, make additional time to monitor the pool's water. A typical dog can be the equivalent of about 50 swimmers in the pool, meaning extra vigilance is needed to maintain the chemical balance.

Source: www.bioguard.com

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Factors to Consider When Pricing a Home

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

Most sellers have an emotional connection to their home and feel it deserves top dollar when sold. Everyone naturally wants to get the most money for his or her product, but "sellers must not be hasty with this all-important decision," cautions real estate expert Robert Jenson, CEO of a Las Vegas real estate group.

"The most common mistake that causes sellers to get less than they hope for is listing the sale price too high. Overpriced properties languish on the market, and most end up selling at a lower price than would have been realized had it been priced properly in the first place."

To help would-be sellers foster maximum profits with their real estate transaction, Jenson offers this advice for establishing a fair, competitive and marketable sale price for a home:

Square footage: Total square footage is an important consideration when establishing a home's sale price, but this is usually just a starting point for buyers who will use it to narrow down the field, but make an actual purchase decision based on many other factors.

Location within community: Quiet cul-de sacs, golf or water frontage, and lots that offer privacy are value-adds that can justify a higher sale price over other homes in a community or be leveraged as an advantage against competing listings.

Views...or lack thereof: Whether it’s the ocean, a downtown skyline, the mountains, water or some other desirable landscape, buyers are willing to pay a premium for views, and a home should be priced accordingly. Just be realistic—views that can only be seen from the second story bathroom window don't count.

Upgrades and features: For a home to sell quickly and for the price desired, it must be "finished" with as many structural and interior design upgrades as possible. Any functional or beautification enhancement to a home are key considerations in establishing a home's true value and strategic sale price.

Community amenities: Guard-gated communities or those with amenities such as a clubhouse, swimming pool or fitness center are elements that raise a home's price per square foot. When pricing a home without these benefits, know whether you are competing against other homes that do offer such value adds so that you can price your home as aggressively and competitively as possible.

Comparable sales: Don't price your home based on price per square footage of other home sales in your community three or more months ago, as these don't offer a realistic portrayal of current market conditions. Focus on prices of active listings to hone a competitive pricing strategy.

Professional appraisal: Want to sell the home quickly? Price it at or below the appraised value as buyers are educated, are shopping deals, and will recognize your fair price and be more apt to pay it with less haggling.

Current mortgage conditions: Lenders now require higher credit scores and higher down payments, which can cash strap buyers holding out for the best deal possible. Savvy sellers will understand the mortgage industry's impact on the buyer and will price accordingly.

If you price your home fairly and reasonably, you'll have a greater chance at selling your home faster and for more money. Take these suggestions into consideration to perfectly price your home for the market.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Nearly One-Third of U.S. Homeowners Feel Motivated to Make Home Renovations Due to Improving Economy

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

With the housing market slowly bouncing back in many communities, homeowners are looking to make improvements to their properties. A new CouponCabin.com survey reveals that nearly one-third (32 percent) of U.S. homeowners feel the improving economy is motivating them to make home improvements that they wouldn't have done during the recession. Overall, more than six-in-ten (64 percent) U.S. homeowners report they are at least somewhat likely to make home renovations or improvements like re-tiling a floor, installing new carpet or re-doing a bathroom in the next 12 months. This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of CouponCabin.com from April 3-5, 2013, among 2,232 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, among which 1,389 are homeowners.

Some homeowners are more willing to invest in home projects now because they're feeling more secure financially. Nearly four-in-ten (38 percent) U.S. homeowners feel the improving economy has made them less nervous to spend money on home renovations.

Seasonality can also be a factor in motivating homeowners to spruce up their abodes. Nearly nine-in-ten (87 percent) feel spring is the ideal time to make home renovations or improvements. Home improvement stores are bound to be busy in the months to come, as 82 percent of those U.S. homeowners who plan to make home renovations or improvements in the next 12 months will shop at a home improvement store.

"Many homeowners have held off on home improvements over the past few years, but are cautiously making changes as the economy strengthens," said Jackie Warrick, senior savings adviser at CouponCabin.com. "No matter the size of the job, home renovations can be costly. It's important for homeowners to carefully approach projects and choose to do renovations that are most likely to raise the value of their home overall."

Whether it's a simple project like painting or a more complicated one like gutting a bathroom, the price tag for home renovations can be high. When it comes to how much homeowners are going to fork over for home renovations in the next 12 months, the survey reveals the following:

• Under $1,000 – 26 percent
• $1,000 - $4,999 – 49 percent
• $5,000 – $9,999 – 15 percent
• More than $10,000 – 11 percent

For some homeowners, getting their hands dirty can offset pricey home renovation costs. Nearly six-in-ten (59 percent) U.S. homeowners who are at least somewhat likely to make renovations in the next 12 months plan to do the work themselves. Those who aren't hiring a professional indicate the reasons for doing the work themselves include wanting to save money (68 percent), enjoying home projects (53 percent) and not trusting anyone else to do it (11 percent). Sixteen percent of those who will not be hiring a professional report that they'll have a friend or family member doing the home renovations.

Source: CouponCabin.com

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FHFA Extends HARP to 2015

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) today directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to extend the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) by two years to December 31, 2015. The program was set to expire December 31, 2013.

“More than 2 million homeowners have refinanced through HARP, proving it a useful tool for reducing risk,” said FHFA Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco. “We are extending the program so more underwater borrowers can benefit from lower interest rates.”

In addition, FHFA will soon launch a nationwide campaign to inform homeowners about HARP. This campaign will educate consumers about HARP and its eligibility requirements and motivate them to explore their options and utilize HARP before the program ends. HARP is uniquely designed to allow borrowers who owe more than their home is worth the opportunity to refinance their mortgage. Extending the program
will continue to provide borrowers opportunities to refinance, give clear guidance to lenders and reduce risk for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and taxpayers.

To be eligible for a HARP refinance, homeowners must meet the following criteria:

-The loan must be owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

-The mortgage must have been sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac on or before May 31, 2009.

-The mortgage cannot have been refinanced under HARP previously, unless it is a Fannie Mae loan that was refinanced under HARP from March - May, 2009.

-The current loan-to-value (LTV) ratio must be greater than 80 percent.

-The borrower must be current on their mortgage payments with no late payments in the last six months and no more than one late payment in the last 12 months.

Borrowers should contact their existing lender or any other mortgage lender offering HARP refinances. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have helped approximately 2.2 million borrowers refinance their homes since HARP was introduced by FHFA and the U.S. Department of the Treasury in April 2009.

Source: FHFA

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