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

3 Pitfalls to Avoid When Paying Your Kitchen and Bath Contractor

February 6, 2013 2:32 am

With the stabilizing of the real estate market, more homeowners are spending money on remodeling projects. If they are not careful, homeowners can end up paying more than they ever expected. Here are some valuable tips on how to avoid three of the most common pitfalls.

A homeowner makes a large deposit, then gets no work done
This is one of the most common scams among unscrupulous contractors. They ask for a big deposit or to pay for all of the materials upfront, then the homeowner never hears from them again. To avoid this pitfall, homeowners should not pay for work or materials upfront and should avoid any large deposits.

Suppliers or subcontractors come after the homeowner for payment
Homeowners are responsible for suppliers and subcontractors who do not get paid on their job. They can even put a lien against the home where they did the work. To avoid this pitfall, there are several strategies a homeowner can use:

- Pay the supplier or subcontractor directly
- Issue joint checks to the contractor and supplier/subcontractor
- Get an unconditional lien release from suppliers/subcontractors

Homeowner is liable for an injury on the job, including lost wages
If the general contractor does not have valid insurance, the homeowner is liable for any injuries on the job. This includes paying lost wages, if someone gets hurt and cannot work for a period of time. To avoid this pitfall, check that the general contractor has valid liability and workman’s comp insurance.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid these and other potential pitfalls is to work with a reputable contractor who has a history of paying suppliers and subcontractors on time. Happy remodeling!

Source: Cornerstone Design & Remodel

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Tips for Remodeling Your Children's Rooms

February 5, 2013 2:30 am

The room is empty, the bed is made, and even stranger--it's dead silent. When your children move away to college or their own apartment, the question remains: What should you do with the room they leave behind? Remodeling unused bedrooms is a great way to deal with the changes in your household, plus, you can utilize the space into something far more practical than if you kept the room as your child left it.

Talk to your children and ask them what furniture they'd like to keep for the future and what can be thrown away. What belongings need to be saved? Can some be moved into the attic or basement for storage? If your child is only away at college (as opposed to a more permanent move), tailor the remodel after his or her personal taste. Color choices and style can be made with the child in mind, yet still be given a fresh new look.

Furthermore, here are a few examples of what you can do with the extra space:

Home offices are always great to add to your home. Whether you have a business, use it for work or simply for bill paying, an office is a great way to continue keeping your home (and its paperwork) organized and clean. A computer desk and chair, shelves, bookcases and cabinets will be a great start for any new office.

A game room will provide entertainment for years to come. With a few tables and a few games, you'll have a running start to an entertainment-based room. You may even want to add a mini-fridge or shelving for assorted snacks and food stuffs. It can be simple, but fun at the same time.

Alternatively, your game room can double as a media room as well (size depending). Do you love movies or have a guilty pleasure of television? Add a TV, surround sound system and a couch to continue entertaining your guests with. Large DVD cases can be purchased to display all of your CDs, DVDs, books and more. During the week, your entertainment room can also be a reading room and place of rest. The options are endless.

Cancel that gym membership and create your own personal exercise room. If you love working out and love it even more so from the comforts of your own home, consider purchasing a couple exercise machines, yoga mats and work out DVDs. Don't forget about a CD player or iPod speakers--the motivation to any solid work out!

These options only scratch the surface to what you can do with your extra space. Turn any hobby of yours into a room of personal paradise. Painting rooms, sewing rooms, large walk-in closets, and more can be used from the space left behind by your newly adult children. Renovating will be an exciting and rewarding project for you to take on--one that will match your interests and give your home a fresh feel.

Source: Relocation.com Blog

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How to Do Your Taxes for Free

February 5, 2013 2:30 am

(Family Features) Going to college; getting your first job; moving into your own place. To these rites of passage add one more: doing your own taxes. And, it’s not as scary as you might think.

It’s not scary because there’s help available. It’s called Free File, and it’s offered exclusively from the IRS in partnership with nearly 15 leading tax software companies. About 3 million people use it every year.

Free File lets you choose brand-name software that does the hard work for you — all for free. And, it offers a fast, safe and free option for everyone. Brand-name tax software is available to those who made $57,000 or less in 2012 — which is about 70 percent of us. Earned more? Try Free File’s online fillable forms, the electronic alternative to IRS paper forms.

Checklist of materials to do your taxes
Keep this list as a checklist of the items you will need to do your taxes. The IRS recommends keeping all tax-related documents for three years, in case of an audit. Tracking income-related documents can help you take full advantage of deductions available to you.

—A copy of last year’s tax return
—Valid Social Security numbers for yourself, spouse and children
—All income statements, i.e. W-2 forms, from all employers
—Interest/dividend statements, i.e. 1099 forms
—Form 1099-G showing any state refunds
—Unemployment compensation amount
—Social Security benefits
—Expense receipts for deductions
—Day care provider’s identifying number

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) helps you keep more of what you earned
No tax benefit offers a greater lifeline to working families than EITC. Yet, one out of every five eligible taxpayers fails to claim it, according to the IRS. Because of the economy, even more people may be eligible if they have had changes in their earned income. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

—The maximum credit for 2012 tax returns is $5,891 for workers with three or more qualifying children.

—Eligibility for the EITC is determined based on a number of factors including earnings, filing status and eligible children. Workers without qualifying children may be eligible for a smaller credit amount.

Source: IRS

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84 Percent of Refinancing Homeowners Maintain or Reduce Mortgage Debt in Fourth Quarter

February 5, 2013 2:30 am

Freddie Mac released the results of its fourth quarter refinance analysis showing homeowners who refinance continue to strengthen their fiscal house. This release also contains annual statistics on refinances for the ten largest metropolitan areas and four Census regions of the U.S.

News Facts

In the fourth quarter of 2012, 84 percent of homeowners who refinanced their first-lien home mortgage either maintained about the same loan amount or lowered their principal balance by paying-in additional money at the closing table; just shy of the record 85 percent during the fourth quarter of 2011. Of these borrowers, 46 percent maintained about the same loan amount, and 39 percent of refinancing homeowners reduced their principal balance.

The average interest rate reduction was about 1.8 percentage points, or a savings of about 33 percent in interest rate, the largest percent reduction recorded in the 27 years of analysis.

The net dollars of home equity converted to cash as part of a refinance, adjusted for consumer-price inflation, remained at a low volume. In the fourth quarter, an estimated $8.1 billion in net home equity was cashed out during the refinance of conventional prime-credit home mortgages, down from an estimated $8.2 billion in the third quarter and substantially less than during the peak cash-out refinance volume of $84 billion during the second quarter of 2006.

Property-value change, loan age, and rate reduction differed between refinancings under the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and other refinances.

For loans refinanced during the fourth quarter through HARP, the median depreciation in property value was 29 percent, the prior loan had a median age of about 5.9 years (to be eligible for HARP, the prior loan had to be originated before June 1, 2009), and the HARP borrower with a 30-year fixed-rate refinance (no product change) had an average interest-rate reduction of 2.0 percentage points.

For all other (non-HARP) refinances during the fourth quarter, the median property had very little (0%) change in property value between the dates of placement of the old loan and the new refinance loan, the prior loan had a median age of 3.7 years, and borrowers who refinanced a 30-year fixed-rate into the same product had an average interest-rate decline of 1.5 percentage points.

In the ten largest metropolitan areas, those that experienced the more severe property value declines tended to have older loans, very little cash-out, and larger percentage declines in mortgage rate. For example, borrowers that refinanced in the Detroit metro area (and had experienced a 37 percent decline in property value between placement of loans) paid off loans that were about 7.4 years old, cashed-out equity in only 7 percent of loans, and reduced their mortgage rate by 30 percent. In contrast, borrowers that refinanced in the Boston metro area (and had about 4 percent value decline) paid off loans that were 2.9 years old, cashed-out equity in 19 percent of loans, and had reduced their mortgage rate by 24 percent.

"On average, borrowers who refinanced reduced their interest rate by about 1.8 percentage points. On a $200,000 loan, that translates into saving about $3,600 in interest during the next 12 months. Fixed-rate mortgage rates hit new lows during December, with 30-year product averaging 3.4 percent and 15-year averaging 2.7 percent that month, according to our Primary Mortgage Market Survey®," says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist. "While all borrowers that refinance have benefitted, HARP has enabled many borrowers that traditionally would not have had access to refinance to obtain low rates and significantly reduce their interest rate and monthly payment. This increases the likelihood that these borrowers will continue to perform on their loan and remain homeowners."

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Keep Your Loved Ones Safe This Valentine's Day

February 4, 2013 2:30 am

To some people Valentine's Day is just a commercialized holiday and an excuse to eat sweets and candy until your heart is content. However, it is important to remember that it is also a time to celebrate and appreciate all those you love, especially your children. There is nothing quite like the love a parent has for their child and the desire to ensure that they are kept safe. While some safety measures are routine, there are some hidden dangers that you may be overlooking that can be dangerous for young children.

The Window Covering Safety Council wishes you a very Happy Valentine's Day and would like to provide a few tips to help parents practice window cord safety and continue to keep their little loved ones safe.

• Install only cordless window coverings in homes with young children. Replace window blinds, corded shades and draperies manufactured before 2001 with today's safer products.
• Move all cribs, beds, chairs, furniture and toys away from windows and window cords, preferably to another wall.
• Make sure cribs are properly assembled and meet current safety standards, and that crib mattresses fit snugly.
• Remove crib toys with cords, strings and ties, which can present a strangulation hazard.
• Keep all window pull cords and inner lift cords out of the reach of children. Make sure that tasseled pull cords are short and continuous-loop cords are permanently anchored to the floor or wall. Make sure cord stops are properly installed and adjusted to limit movement of inner lift cords.
• Lock cords into position whenever horizontal blinds or shades are lowered, including when they come to rest on a windowsill.
• Support heavy furniture by using wall-angle brackets or anchors to make sure they are secure.
• Set up blockades around fireplaces, ovens, heaters and stairs.

Source: The Window Covering Safety Council

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6 Ways to Spend Less on Groceries

February 4, 2013 2:30 am

Household bills can get expensive. Between mortgage payments, insurance, home repairs and utilities, many homeowners might need to stretch those paychecks when times get tough. One easy area to save is at the grocery store. Grocery shopping is a large part of the family budget. The average family of four spends nearly $6,000 a year at the supermarket. Does your family need to scale back a bit on grocery spending? Here are six easy tips to help you save money as you’re aisle hopping.

Make a list before you go using your weekly flyer. If the store has a website, check to see what is on sale and what you think you’ll need for the week. By having a plan, you’ll do less perusing and more calculated shopping. Having a list will even save you time, too.

Always sign up for the club card. No matter what, always get the store’s savings card to guarantee that you’ll get all of the advertised sale prices. You’ll receive extra members-only specials as well. Stores that sell gasoline also award you with points towards gas purchases. These cards are free to get and will save you loads.

Know how to pace your purchases. If you time your purchases right, you rarely have to pay full price for things you buy every week. You’ll begin to notice how often certain products go on sale, and you can catch your favorite items on sale weeks. By grabbing what you need on Buy-1-Get-1 weeks, you’ll save immensely over time.

Buying store brands can also save. Most supermarkets offer their own brand labels, which cost around 25 percent less. Almost every product has its own store brand, even frozen veggies, baked goods and cold cuts—it’s not just limited to canned fruit and paper towels anymore. Look for these inexpensive products and be sure to compare prices to the name brands.

Always remember your coupons. Whether you clip them from the newspaper, or click and print from the Web, this one is a no-brainer.

Be a smart shopper. Stores use all sorts of tactics to get you to spend more. If something is “three-for-a-dollar,” it usually doesn’t mean you have to buy three. Only buy what you need and usually the discount is applied regardless. Also, don’t just buy things at eye level—stores often place the more expensive items there. Search high and low to find the good deals.

With some smart shopping, you can save your family a great deal of money just by changing your shopping habits. Plenty of bills come in each month. This saved money will be far more useful elsewhere.

Source: Consumer Reports

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Fire Prevention Week Checklist

February 4, 2013 2:30 am

According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 3,000 Americans die each year in home fires. These deaths tend to increase in the winter months when everyone is lighting fires and cranking the heat in an attempt to stay warm and cozy indoors. Use this five-step checklist so that you can prevent a fire from happening in your home.

Check the alarms. Two-thirds of home fires occur in buildings with no working smoke alarms. Carbon monoxide poisoning also claims several hundred lives every year. Make sure to change the batteries in your smoke alarms often. If your smoke detectors start beeping due to a low battery, change them immediately. Don't put your family's safety at risk.

Have fire extinguishers nearby. Cooking is one of the leading causes of home fires and injuries. It is recommended that you have a full-floor extinguisher on each level of your home, as well as a smaller backup model for the kitchen. With these extinguishers handy, you can be prepared for any problem and might even be able to prevent a full structure fire.

Periodically clean your dryer vents. Lint filled dryer ducts are responsible for 4,500 home fires per year. Using a flexible or solid metal duct will lessen your chances of fires. Seal all joints and seams and remove and clean the duct regularly. As always, clean the lint filter after each load.

Make the appropriate room for space heaters. Space heaters are the cause of nearly 22,000 home fires. Some of these are caused by faulty space heaters, while others are simply the result of a poorly placed heater. Heaters should normally be placed three feet away from anything flammable. Always check for severed power cords and turn them off when leaving a room or going to sleep. Some models even have tip-over switches that turn the machine off if it happens to be knocked over. These models are highly recommended for this safety feature alone.

Frequently inspect your heating equipment. Have your furnace inspected at least once a year by a licensed heating contractor. This will not only ensure that there is nothing faulty with your equipment, but will also make sure that your furnace is running at maximum efficiency as well.
With these preventative methods, you can cut down the chances of a fire destroying your home or apartment.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Mortgage Rates Trending Higher

February 1, 2013 2:26 am

Freddie Mac today released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing mortgage rates continuing to trend higher amid a growing economy led in part by the recovering housing market. This marks the first week the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has averaged above 3.5 percent since September 13 of last year. The all-time record low for the 30-year fixed was set the week of November 21, 2012, when it averaged 3.31 percent.

News Facts
-30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.53 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending January 31, 2013, up from last week when it averaged 3.42 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.87 percent.

-15-year FRM this week averaged 2.81 percent with an average 0.7 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.71 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.14 percent.

-5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.70 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.67 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.80 percent.

-1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.59 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.57 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.76 percent.

"Mortgage rates continued to trend upwards this week amid a growing economy led in part by the recovering housing market. For instance, new home sales totaled 367,000 in 2012, the most in three years and reflected the first annual increase in seven years," says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. "Pending home sales in 2012 averaged its highest reading since 2006. And the S&P/Case-Shiller® 20-city composite house price index rose 5.5 percent over the 12-months ending in November 2012, the largest annual growth since August 2006. All of these factors helped residential fixed investment to add nearly 0.4 percentage points to real GDP growth in the fourth quarter alone."

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More Men than Women Would Prefer to Take a Romantic Trip with a Significant Other If They Could Take One More Vacation Per Year

February 1, 2013 2:26 am

Hotwire.com, a leading discount travel site, revealed results from its second annual American Travel Behavior Survey, conducted online on its behalf by Harris Interactive in October 2012 among over 2,000 U.S. adults. According to the survey, almost two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans who travel believe that their relationships with their loved one(s) would be better if they went on more leisure trips together.

Furthermore, two in five (38 percent) U.S. adults indicated that if they could afford to take one more leisure trip than they may have already planned, they'd first want to take a romantic trip with a spouse/significant other instead of a family getaway (25 percent), or a solo trip (13 percent) or a vacation with friends (16 percent). And in a surprising twist, this preference was significantly higher in men (42 percent) than in women (33 percent), making a spontaneous romantic trip the perfect Valentine's gift to give a boyfriend or husband.

Fortunately, this year, Valentine's Day lands on the Thursday before President's Day, Monday, February 18. Since President's Day is a holiday for many Americans, Hotwire suggests using the three-day weekend (or stretching it out into a four- or five-day weekend) to take a loved one on a romantic escape. And to get the destination ideas flowing, Hotwire has provided a list of the five most popular destinations for the long weekend.

Number one on the list is New York, and it has so much to offer amorous visitors, it's no surprise that the city has served as a backdrop in countless romantic movies, books and televisions shows. Significant others can rent paddleboats at Central Park's Loeb Boathouse, go ice skating in Rockefeller Center or enjoy sunsets on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. For sports loving couples, be sure to catch a game at Madison Square Garden.

Up next on the list is Orlando. While this Floridian city certainly offers fun for the whole family, it also serves up plenty of romance for two. Take a gondola ride through the downtown area, visit the Kraft Azalea Gardens in Winter Park at sunset or snuggle up and enjoy a chilled drink at ICEBAR Orlando. Newlyweds visiting the theme parks should be sure to stop by the Guest Relations office for a set of buttons that read "Just Married" for special perks and extras to complete their whimsical trip.

In at number three is Las Vegas. This desert destination might be Sin City to some, but there are plenty of sweet treats for couples spending a romantic weekend away. For the ultimate date night, visit Max Brenner at the Forum Shops and dive into a pot of chocolate fondue or buy some chocolate-covered strawberries before heading over to the Eiffel Tower to catch a glimpse of the Bellagio fountains across the street. Vegas is truly The Entertainment Capital of the World, so afterward, sit back and enjoy one of the dozens of amazing shows. Wrap up the night with a late dinner at one of hundreds of world-class restaurants and a gondola ride at the Venetian.

Rounding out the top five are Chicago and San Francisco. While in Chicago, visit the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, cruise on Lake Michigan or head to Sears Tower and hold hands while stepping on the glass floor. San Francisco visitors can have a wine and cheese picnic in Golden Gate Park or ride up and down the beautiful hills of San Francisco on one of the city's famous cable cars.

Source: Hotwire

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Extended Foreclosure Relief for Hurricane Sandy Storm Victims

February 1, 2013 2:26 am

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who serves as President Obama’s Chairman of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, and Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco announced that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac will extend expiring protections against foreclosure actions against homeowners whose properties were damaged or destroyed due to Hurricane Sandy.

The additional 90-day foreclosure moratorium applies to homeowners with properties in states where the President issued major disaster declarations following Hurricane Sandy. The extended moratoriums announced today apply to the initiation of foreclosures and foreclosures already in process.

“It’s all too clear that families need more time to get back on their feet without having a foreclosure or eviction hanging over their heads,” said Donovan. “As we work to rebuild after this historic storm, we’ll do everything we can to ease the crushing burden being faced by those homeowners, many of whom have been forced from their homes.”

“Given the magnitude of this disaster, extending the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions will allow homeowners in the affected areas, and their servicers, the time needed to assess individual circumstances and options,” said DeMarco.

FHA is extending moratoriums for another 90 days on the initiation of foreclosures and foreclosures already in process. FHA is also suspending evictions of persons from properties secured by FHA mortgages in these affected counties through April 30, 2013.

After consultation with FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will also extend the suspension of foreclosure sales and eviction lockouts for borrowers impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The new 90-day extension applies to homeowners with properties or employment within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared disaster area eligible for individual assistance. This follows an earlier 90-day suspension of foreclosure sales and evictions in the impacted areas. In addition to the foreclosure sale and eviction moratorium, homeowners impacted by Hurricane Sandy may be eligible for forbearance, loan modifications or waived late payment charges.

Source: Federal Housing Finance Agency

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