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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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Are the Holidays Wreaking Havoc on You? Get Organized and Take Control

December 13, 2012 2:00 am

At the midpoint of the holiday season, busy schedules and stress levels continue to rise. To help you survive and thrive during this holiday season, here are several tips and tricks to help make yours memorable and stress-free.

• Home is where the heart is.
And it's also the gathering place for family and friends, so get yourself and the house prepared. Create a chore chart and timeline so you're not in this alone and focus on the "public areas" of the house, especially the kitchen. Maximize its space by cleaning and clearing counter tops. A professional carpet cleaning, which is recommended every 6-18 months, should be considered, as well.
It's Party Time! If you're hosting a holiday event, request RSVPs to ensure an accurate headcount. Then, create a plan that includes seating and space requirements, supplies and party favors—2013 calendars make great gifts. Be sure to plan for food storage and cooking/preparation space during the party—this is also a great opportunity to clean out the refrigerator.
What's a feast without Roast Beast? Unless you're in Whoville, you probably will feature more traditional items for your feast. Whatever they may be, write out a detailed menu, create a shopping list, gather grocery ads and coupons, and create a cooking timeline. Make sure to organize these lists and items properly to ensure an efficient trip to the store. Account for dietary restrictions and food allergies, too.
Away you flew like a down of a thistle. Maybe you're not staying at home for the holidays—make sure your travels to your destination are as stress-free as possible. Create and print out itineraries for the entire family. If traveling by car, go through the standard 21-point checklist or make time in your schedule for a professional mechanic to look over your vehicle—use of an auto record book helps you stay on top of required services. If traveling by air, pre-print boarding passes and other necessary documentation for faster check-in. Set up alerts through your mobile devices with the airlines to keep on top of delays or flight changes.
The other line moves faster. This always seems to be the case, and even more so when under the time pressures of the holidays. If you're going to make the most out of your holiday shopping trips, you must have a plan and stick to it.

Source: Day-Timer/AT-A-GLANCE

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Home Safety Tips to Help Minimize the Threat of Winter Fires

December 13, 2012 2:00 am

With cold temps nipping in the air, everyone’s trying to find new ways to stay warm. However, with home heating costs burning a hole in consumers’ wallets, nearly two-thirds of all residential fires occur during the winter months, according to the National Fire Protection Association. This results in billions of dollars in property damage as well as thousands of injuries and deaths each year.

Fires can originate from many sources: too many electrical devices plugged into an outlet, portable heating devices, or roaring fireplaces. However, there are many precautions homeowners can take to keep the home fires burning safely. The use of alternative heating devices is a significant source of many winter fires.

The good news is, many fires are preventable, if the proper precautions are taken. To help minimize the likelihood of a fire occurring in your home, consider the following:

Keep a tight-fitting screen on your fireplace and obtain a professional inspection annually before use. You should also have your chimney cleaned on a regular basis to remove any debris.

If you have a wood-burning stove, make sure there is ample clearance between the stove and any combustible materials. Burn only dry, well-seasoned wood, and dispose of the ashes in a closed metal container outside the house. Do not burn trash in the stove - this can start a chimney fire. Never let a wood fire burn unattended or overnight.

With any type of heater, such as an electric space heater or portable kerosene heater, use common sense. Always keep the heater away from flammables and - although it may be tempting, especially in snow-prone areas - never accelerate the drying of clothes by placing them on top of the heater. Think twice, and use a drying rack instead. Have your heater serviced per the manufacturer’s instructions.
The best defense is a good preparation. A few minutes could save a life.

Source: Metlife

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Tips for Maintaining Safe Food-Handling Practices in the Kitchen

December 12, 2012 1:58 am

By John Voket

Whether it’s just for yourself, for your family, or for any guests or business associates you might be entertaining over the holidays, be sure you are maintaining safe food handling practices in the kitchen.

A recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that although consumers recognize the potential seriousness of food-borne bacteria, they lack information on safe handling and storage of food products. A survey published by the CDC found that consumers under 35 years of age knew less about food safety terms and concepts than those over 35. Specific safe food handling was not practiced by 15 percent to 30 percent of survey respondents. For example, consumers did not cool cooked food rapidly, with 29 percent indicating they would let roasted chicken cool completely before refrigerating.

Only 32 percent indicated they would use small, shallow containers to refrigerate leftovers. Consumers did not know that failure to refrigerate may jeopardize safety, with 18 percent not concerned or uncertain about the safety of cooked meat and 14 percent not concerned about poultry left unrefrigerated for more than 4 hours.

The need for sanitation was not recognized, with only 54 percent indicating they would wash a cutting board with soap and water between cutting raw meat and chopping vegetables.

Food safety experts have identified the most common food-handling mistakes made by consumers at home:

- Serving contaminated raw food
- Cooking or heating food inadequately
- Obtaining food from unsafe sources
- Cooling food inadequately
- Allowing 12 hours or more between preparation and eating

What’s more, according to the CDC, many factors have contributed to consumers' lack of familiarity with safe food handling and increased food-borne illnesses. Increased participation in the paid labor force has lessened the exposure of young people to food-handling practices in the home; few schools offer or require food preparation classes; and partially prepared foods may have different, less familiar handling requirements.

If you want to read a wide variety of information on food handling and all kinds of handy prevention tips, visit the CDC website (cdc.gov) and make a resolution to keep yourself and your home free of food-borne illness in the New Year!

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'Tis the Season for Safe Medicine Storage

December 12, 2012 1:58 am

Millions of Americans travel during the holidays, often to visit family and friends. During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it is easy to overlook the importance of safely storing medicines and vitamins out of the sight and reach of young children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) Educational Foundation are reminding Americans this holiday season about the importance of safe medicine storage at home and on-the-go, as part of the Up and Away and Out of Sight educational program.

Annually, more than 60,000 young children – or roughly four school busloads of children per day – age 5 or younger are treated in emergency departments for accidental ingestion of household medicines, according to Dan Budnitz, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC's Medication Safety Program. "Parents may not be aware of the danger posed by leaving medications where young children can reach or see them."

Here are tips to help parents and grandparents safely store medicines and vitamins during the holidays:

Keep all medicines and vitamins up and away and out of sight in a high cabinet or other place inaccessible to young children.
Keep purses, bags, or coats that have medicines or vitamins in them out of their reach and sight.
When hosting family members and friends, let the adults know where they can safely store their medicines and vitamins, so they are up and away and out of the sight and reach of young children.
Remember to ensure all medicines and vitamins are secured every time they are used by checking that safety caps are locked and returning them to a location up and away and out of sight.
Program the national Poison Help number, 1-800-222-1222, along with other emergency phone numbers in your home and cell phone so they are available in case of an emergency.

The holidays can be a hectic time, and no one wants to unintentionally put young children in harm's way by leaving medicines in an accessible place. Safe medicine storage should be practiced year-round. Returning medicines to a secure location every time they are used can help prevent unsupervised ingestions and emergency room visits by young children each year.

Source: Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) Educational Foundation

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Adding a Little Luxury to Your Home

December 12, 2012 1:58 am

(Family Features) Seventy-two percent of homeowners plan to decorate or redecorate in the next two years, according to the 2012 Houzz and Home Survey; and 86 percent said that improving the look and feel of the space was their most important goal.

You can find plenty of décor inspiration on sites such as Houzz or Pinterest. And with the right materials and a little creativity, you can add a little luxury to your home, too. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Paint – You can add a fresh look to a room with a fresh coat of paint. You can also add richness and depth with a specialty paint treatment. Textured paint allows you to give your walls the look of soft suede, leather, linen or even vintage plaster. Metallic paints can be used with stencils to create elegant patterns, or on textured wallpaper to create the look of antique tin ceiling tiles.

Textiles – Fabrics are a great way to add color and texture to a room. Browsing the remnant tables at a fabric store can lead you to some beautiful bargains. You can use remnants to recover pillows, add banding to drapes, or make runners for the table or buffet. Try adding a luxurious throw to the sofa or a small wool rug on top of existing carpet for a cozy, layered look.

You can also consider investing in having a quality piece of furniture reupholstered. Look for a fabric that is not only beautiful, but durable as well, so you get more bang for your buck.

Accents – Sometimes little things can add up to a big difference. Change out some of your accent pieces to add a special touch to any room. Metallic colors and materials such as gold, silver, bronze and copper add warmth and elegance. Vases, picture and mirror frames, decorative bowls and trays are simple ways to bring beautiful metals into any room. Richly colored candles add color and scent to a room, and their soft light will make your metallic accents glow.

Flooring – Sometimes the floor can get overlooked as a design element in a room. But a beautiful floor can pull the whole look of a room together. Refinishing hardwood floors, installing laminate or stone flooring, replacing carpets, or investing in quality area rugs are all ways you can add the perfect finishing touch to a room.

There are a lot of ways you can add luxury to your living spaces, so start exploring creative ways to make your home the picture-perfect place you’ve always wanted.

Source: Sensuede

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Protect Your Pets from the Hidden Hazards of Winter

December 11, 2012 1:56 am

Rock salt, antifreeze and mistletoe - oh my! The holiday season brings many pleasures to our four-legged friends: family gatherings, big meals, special trips, and in many areas, some chilly white fluffy stuff to frolic in. However, many pet owners don't realize that when the temperatures drop, the unexpected risks for pets rise.

Here are the top five winter hazards that can be life-threatening for pets. They include:

1. Rock Salt: If you live in a cold climate where winter brings snow and ice, then you're familiar with our first hazard. Rock salt, also called road salt, is sodium chloride mixed with other chemical additives and is used to keep sidewalks and roadways from being too slippery from ice. While the mixture works well, it is very tough on our pets' paws and can be extremely dangerous if ingested. Other de-icing agents should also be avoided in areas where pets congregate.

2. Antifreeze
: Pets may be drawn to this popular engine coolant because it has a sweet taste, but this exceedingly toxic substance that contains ethylene glycol can be found anywhere vehicles drive or park, including streets, roadways, parking lots, or even your own driveway. If ingested, this fluorescent green fluid can cause kidney failure or even death in pets, and since it's used to control the freezing and boiling point of liquids, antifreeze is not exclusively a winter hazard, but also quite dangerous during the warmer months as well.

3. Heating Sources: Pets may enjoy cozying up near the fireplace to bask in the warmth, but this activity is dangerous because of the exposure to flames and increased temperatures that can potentially burn their skin. In addition, pet parents need to be extra cautious when exposing their furry friends to electric blankets and space heaters because these electrical items can become toxic or harmful.

4. Winter Plants: Although they look pretty, many holiday plants can be poisonous to pets. Mistletoe, Poinsettias, Holly and Christmas Cactus are all extremely toxic and can cause severe gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurologic effects if ingested. Christmas trees are also hazardous because not only are the pine needles poisonous, but also because of the bacteria and fertilizer harbored in the water stands (which pets are known to drink). Additionally, decorations such as tinsel can also be very noxious if consumed.

5. Festive Foods: Meats and sweets are treats that pets beg for, but are serious no-no's when it comes to your pet's health. Turkey and other holiday meats are very high in protein, but if meats in their natural form are not a regular part of their diet, they can be hard to digest, which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, or inflammation of the pancreas. Chocolate may be the best-known food danger for pets because it contains caffeine. Dogs in particular do not metabolize these stimulants in their liver, and elevations in heart rate, blood pressure, or even seizures, coma, or death can occur. Of course, all candy is high in sugar, which can cause digestive issues for all pets.

During the holiday season, ensure that everyone enjoys a fun and safe celebration, which includes taking a few extra precautions for your beloved pets.

Source: Adopt-a-Pet.com

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Planning for Charitable Donations and Gifting

December 11, 2012 1:56 am

As consumers scramble to buy the perfect holiday gifts for those they care about, many are missing the opportunity to give a gift that keeps on giving long past the holiday season. According to Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) Consumer Advocate Eleanor Blayney, CFP®, gifting and charitable donations made at the end of the year can offer multiple benefits and long-term rewards if made with some thought and a plan.

"Too often we aren't smart about the gifts we make. We see gift-giving as a chore to find 'stuff' for the stockings, or we dash a check off to a charity before the end of the year," says Blayney. "We should consider transforming our giving from just stuff – opened today, forgotten tomorrow – to gifts that benefit the recipients and ourselves long after the tinsel and bows have been swept away."

Creating a plan for charitable donations and gifting is the last of 12 steps in CFP Board's year-long "12 for '12 Approach to Financial Confidence." As consumers make their gifts this year, Blayney suggests considering four strategies to giving:

Plan Now, Give Later, Part 1: By simply budgeting and setting money aside throughout the year for year-end giving, you're certain to make the season merrier, both for you and the people and causes you care about. Doing the opposite – spending without planning first, then paying later – is a sure-fire way to turn the joy of giving into a new year's hangover.

Plan Now, Give Later, Part 2: This good advice deserves a second look, but now in the context of charitable giving. Planned giving, a category of charitable transfers, involves pledging or earmarking assets today for a future transfer to charity. Making a charitable bequest in a will is one example; naming a charity as a beneficiary on a retirement plan or insurance policy is another. Charitable remainder trusts and gift annuities also provide for future donations, but can generate current tax deductions in an amount equal to the "present value" of the later transfer. From a financial planning point of view, planned gifts are both smart and generous: they ensure that a donor's assets are available to him or her for lifetime expenses if needed. Once that need is no longer there, the remaining assets go to benefit charity.

Plan Now, Benefit Later: This method of giving is really a form of "investing" – using today's money to build a better future. Most of the gifts we give are depreciable goods like clothes, games, and food. Once worn, used, or consumed, they have little remaining value. Instead, consider gifts with long-term benefits: a contribution to a child's college savings plan, payment for a skills-building workshop, or picking up the fee for an adult child or relative to talk to a CFP® professional.

Plan Now, Benefit Now: With a bit of careful planning, you can make some of your gifts this holiday season pay off almost immediately through added tax savings. For example, rather than just writing a check to a charity, review your portfolio for appreciated securities you have held for more than a year. Not only do you get a deduction for the market value of the securities donated, but you get the additional benefit of avoiding the capital gains when the security is sold. For individuals who may be subject to estate and gift taxes, making a gift to a beneficiary today can have the advantage of minimizing the total taxes that must be paid both now and later. A CFP® professional can assist with the finer points of this gifting strategy, helping you to choose the best types of assets to give now and the strategies to maximize the amount of current gifting that can be done transfer-tax free.

"With a plan, it's possible this holiday season to give gifts with benefits that last longer than the momentary joy of unwrapping a present," says Blayney.

Source: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.

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Improving Consumer Attitudes Suggest Continued Strength in Housing Market

December 11, 2012 1:56 am

Despite continued uncertainty surrounding the fiscal cliff, Americans are showing increased confidence in the housing market and the direction of the economy. According to results from Fannie Mae’s November 2012 National Housing Survey, such improvement bodes especially well for continued strengthening in the housing sector, which in turn is likely to support overall economic growth.

“Consumer attitudes toward both the economy and the housing market continue to gather momentum, with many of our 11 key National Housing Survey indicators at or near their two-and-a-half-year highs,” said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist of Fannie Mae. “On the housing front, attitudes about the current selling environment continue to improve, with a significant increase in those saying it would be a good time to sell. This growing confidence in a housing recovery, in addition to other factors, may reinforce growing consumer optimism regarding the improving direction of the general economy.”

The November survey results show significant movement across many of the indicators. The share of respondents who say now is a good time to sell a home jumped 5 percentage points in November to 23 percent – the highest level since the survey began in June 2010 – narrowing the gap with those who say it is a good time to buy. The percentage of respondents who expect mortgage rates to go up increased by 4 percentage points to 41 percent. Those expecting home prices to go down within the next year also rose by 4 percentage points to 14 percent over last month, a rebound from the survey's record low in the prior month, while the share who believe home prices will go up in the next 12 months edged up to 37 percent, tying the survey high. Of note, 51 percent of respondents now say it would be easy to get a mortgage, marking the highest rate since the survey’s inception.

Survey Highlights

Homeownership and Renting

• Average home price change expectation held steady at 1.7 percent.
• Fourteen percent of those surveyed say that home prices will go down in the next 12 months, a 4 percentage point increase over last month.
• The percentage who think mortgage rates will go up continued to rise, increasing 4 percentage points in November to 41 percent.
• Twenty-three percent of respondents say it is a good time to sell, a 5 percentage point increase over last month, and the highest level since the survey’s inception.
• The average rental price expectation hit 4 percent in November, a 0.9 percent rise over the past two months.
• Forty-eight percent of those surveyed say home rental prices will go up in the next 12 months, a slight decrease from last month.
• The share of respondents who said they would buy if they were going to move held relatively steady at 67 percent.
• Fifty-one percent of respondents now say it would be easy to get a mortgage, marking the highest rate since the survey’s inception.

The Economy and Household Finances

• Hitting 50 percent for the first time since the survey’s inception, the percentage who think the economy is on the wrong track has declined by 25 percentage points over the past year, and by 6 percentage points from last month.
• The percentage who expect their personal financial situation to get worse over the next 12 months rose 5 percentage points to 18 percent, the highest level since December 2011.
• Meanwhile, 21 percent of respondents say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago.
• Household expenses remained stable over the past month, with 56 percent responding that their household expenses stayed the same compared to 12 months ago.

Source: Fannie Mae

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Lighting and Energy Reduction Tips for the Winter

December 10, 2012 1:54 am

For homeowners looking to decorate their homes for the holidays, it's a great time to review some tips to help save money and conserve energy throughout this time of the year.

On average, holiday lights cost just pennies a day. However, elaborate displays that use large incandescent bulbs can add as much as $80 to a monthly electric bill, depending on the number of bulbs and how long they're lit each night.

There are many less costly, more energy-efficient options available today that even the most elaborate lighting display can fit into anyone's budget. Six 100-bulb sets of large, incandescent bulbs (600 bulbs total), plugged in six hours each night, can add up to $80 to a monthly electric bill. By comparison, six 100-bulb sets of similarly styled light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs would increase a monthly electric bill by $7.

Customers can estimate their holiday lighting costs using an energy calculator like the one found here: www.duke-energy.com/holidaylights.

Safety Tips

• Before installing lights, check each set – new and old – for damaged sockets, loose connections and frayed or bare wires. Discard damaged sets or repair them before using.
• Never use more than three standard-sized sets of lights per extension cord.
• Plug exterior lights into ground-fault interruptible (GFI) outlets only. If the home lacks outside GFI outlets, call an electrician to install them.
• Before climbing a ladder, inspect it to ensure it's in good working condition and follow the weight limits specified on the ladder. Ladders that lean against a wall or other support should be angled so the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is about one-quarter the working length of the ladder. Never use a ladder for any purpose other than the one for which it's designed.
• Never use a ladder on or near power lines.

Energy Efficiency Tips
The thermostat is the real culprit of a higher December bill, so homeowners are encouraged to select the lowest comfortable setting when they're home, then bump it down a degree or two when they leave.
Other money-saving tips include:

• Hire a qualified technician to inspect home heating and cooling equipment each season to ensure proper operation.
• Change air filters monthly, year-round.
• Ensure drapes, furniture, rugs and holiday decorations do not block heat registers and vents. Clean registers and vents regularly with a vacuum or broom.
• Take advantage of natural solar heat. On sunny days, leave the drapes or blinds open to allow the sun's rays to warm the house.

For more simple ways to control home energy costs, visit www.duke-energy.com/youtility.

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NAR Survey of Homebuyers and Sellers Shows Dual Income Couples Fueling Market

December 10, 2012 1:54 am

Dual income households are comprising a greater portion of the housing market and helping sales recover, according to an annual study. The 2012 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers continues a long-running series of large national NAR surveys evaluating the demographics, preferences, motivations, plans and experiences of recent homebuyers and sellers.

According to the new survey, 65 percent of all buyers are married couples, 16 percent are single women, 9 percent single men, 8 percent unmarried couples and 2 percent other; percentages of single buyers were slightly higher in 2011. However, just two years ago, 58 percent of buyers were married, 20 percent were single women, 12 percent single men and 7 percent unmarried couples; the overall marketshare of single buyers declined a total of 7 percentage points over the past two years. Before 2010, the marketshares moved within a very narrow range, generally a percentage point or two.

Paul Bishop, NAR vice president of research, said the study is painting a clearer picture of the impact of mortgage limitations. “We’ve known for some time that stringent mortgage credit standards have been holding back home sales, but these findings show single buyers have been hurt the most over the past two years. Total home sales would be 10 to 15 percent higher without these unnecessary headwinds,” he said.

“The continued growth in married couples as single buyers shrink demonstrates that households with dual incomes are more successful in obtaining a mortgage. However, given the historically favorable housing affordability conditions, most single-income buyers could also purchase a home and stay well within their means, if lending requirements were more sensible,” Bishop said.

First-time homebuyers edged up to a 39 percent marketshare in the past year from 37 percent in the 2011 study. Long-term survey averages show that four out of 10 buyers are typically first-time buyers, who are critical to a housing recovery because they help existing homeowners to sell and make a trade.

The study shows the median age of first-time buyers was 31 and the median income was $61,800. The typical first-time buyer purchased a 1,600 square-foot home costing $154,100, while the typical repeat buyer was 51 years old and earned $93,100. Repeat buyers purchased a median 2,100-square foot home costing $220,000.

The median down payment for all homebuyers was 9 percent, ranging from 4 percent for first-time buyers to 13 percent for repeat buyers. “First-time buyers historically make small down payments, but repeat buyers like to put down 20 percent if they can to avoid paying mortgage insurance,” Bishop said.

“The general loss in home value since the peak of the housing boom means many repeat buyers in recent years had to make smaller down payments. Fortunately, prices have turned up this year and are showing sustained increases, so we’re on the road to a recovery in home equity.”

Source: NAR

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