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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

My Blog

Mortgage Rates Hit All-time Record Lows for Second Consecutive Week

October 18, 2012 6:28 am

Freddie Mac released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates falling to new all-time record lows for the second consecutive week on mortgage securities purchases by the Federal Reserve and indicators of a weakening economy. The Federal Reserve's purchase of long-term fixed mortgage securities allowed the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage at 2.69 percent to fall below the 5-year ARM's rate at 2.72 percent. The last time the average 15-year fixed was lower than the 5-year ARM was the week ending October 15, 2009.

News Facts

• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.36 percent with an average 0.6 point for the week ending October 4, 2012, down from last week when it averaged 3.40 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.94 percent.
• 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.69 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.73 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.26 percent.
• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.72 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.71 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.96 percent.
• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.57 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.60 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.95 percent.
Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage. Borrowers may still pay closing costs, which are not included in the survey.

"Fixed mortgage rates fell again this week to all-time record lows due to the mortgage securities purchases by the Federal Reserve and indicators of a weakening economy. The final estimate of growth in Gross Domestic Product was revised down to 1.3 percent in the second quarter, representing the slowest growth in a year," says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist for Freddie Mac. "In addition, personal incomes rose only 0.1 percent in August, while July's increase was revised downward. And finally, pending home sales in August fell 2.6 percent, well below the market consensus forecast of a slight increase."

Source: Freddie Mac

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Pinterest vs. Facebook: Which Social Sharing Site Wins at Shopping Engagement?

October 17, 2012 6:28 am

Sixty-nine percent of online consumers who visit Pinterest found an item they've purchased, or want to purchase, compared to just 40 percent of online consumers who visit Facebook and found the same, discovers the latest study in the Bizrate Insights Image Sharing and Shopping Series.

While Facebook is far larger than Pinterest in terms of audience size—63 percent of online consumers have a Facebook account, while only 15 percent have a Pinterest account—the study, based on a survey of verified online buyers, finds that Pinterest provides a better experience for shopping discovery, purchase consideration, and deeper engagement with retailer content.

But this is not to say that all social attention should be diverted to Pinterest. Facebook and Pinterest each serve their online shopping communities with their preferred shopping activities, which vary by platform. For example, Facebook outpaces Pinterest in promotions (30 percent participate on Facebook vs. 9 percent on Pinterest), while Pinterest is stronger in sharing (55 percent re-pin an item on Pinterest vs. 37 percent who post an item on Facebook).

The Study, which contains results from over 7,000 verified online buyers in August 2012, compares Pinterest and Facebook engagement across a variety of shopping activities and usage occasions. This third study in the Series continues to provide deeper insight for retailers and marketers seeking to trend how online consumers are approaching Pinterest and other social media outlets.

All reports in this Series can be viewed at: http://bizrateinsights.com/blog/category/social-media/pinterest/.

Source: Bizrate Insights

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New Survey Sheds Light on Consumer Renting Behavior

October 17, 2012 6:28 am

Rent.com released its annual property managers’ report, which captures trends in the rental market by synthesizing the opinions of apartment property managers nationwide. In the 2012 survey, property managers provided insight on drivers for vacancy rates, expected rent increases, how rate increases are managed across tenants, and features which are most important to renters.

What Primarily Drives Vacancies?
Rent.com found that relocating and buying a home have taken the lead as the primary drivers of vacancy rates; this is a significant change from two years ago when job loss was the primary driver. Since 2010 there has been a 30 percentage point decrease in property managers who cited job loss as a primary driver of vacancy rates.

The decrease in property managers citing job loss makes sense in the context of the unemployment rate reports that the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides. In August 2010, the unemployment rate was approximately 9.6 percent, but since then has dropped to 7.8 percent for September 2012.

Is the Rent Too High?
Most (62.6 percent) of the property managers surveyed predicted that rents will rise over the next 12 months and 72.3 percent of property managers surveyed said they are actually planning to increase rental rates at their properties over the next 12 months. If the past year is any indication, tenants moving into a new property will face steeper rate increases than renters who choose to renew their existing leases. Apparently, it pays to stay! According to property managers, the average rental rate increase for new tenants in the past 12 months was 20 percent greater than the average increase for renewing tenants.

The survey also looked at exactly how much property managers expect rents to increase for both new and existing tenants over the next year. Not surprising, for new tenants, the percentage of property owners indicating a significant price increase of $100 or more per month was much larger. In fact, it was double. Twelve percent of property managers said they raised rents by $100 or more for new tenants as compared to just 6 percent of property managers for renewing tenants.

What a Property Manager Wants

When vetting a potential tenant, we learned that 46 percent of property managers reported that the minimum acceptable gross income to rent ratio for standard applicants is three times or more the monthly rental rate; while 30 percent will accept a gross income of 2.5 times the monthly rental rate.

Additionally, 74 percent of property managers ranked gross income to rent ratio as an important or very important factor in order for a renter to secure an apartment in one of their communities. Just edged out of the top spot was credit profile and payment history, which 72 percent of property managers ranked as important or very important. Surprisingly, nearly 60 percent of property managers told us that a high credit score is actually not important. Renters take note. When it comes to qualifying for your next apartment it’s best to have your financial house in order with a qualifying income level and a credit profile showing a good history of on time payment, but don’t sweat it if your credit score isn’t 750.

What’s the simplest way to negotiate savings on your monthly rental rate? Half (50 percent) of all property managers said sign a longer lease agreement, for example, 18-24 months vs. 12 months. Just over 8 percent said that setting up automatic debit payments can help as well which ensures that they are paid early or on time each month. This can also help you avoid ugly late fees which will save you money. Lastly, it’s clear that renewing your existing lease may just keep more money in your pocket this year.

Preferred Features

The survey found that 45.1 percent of property managers say according to feedback from prospective renters, allowing pets is the most important feature in their next property; as compared to 28.4 percent who say a dedicated parking space takes priority for renters. This is notable considering nearly 30 percent more American households have cars than pets.

Additionally, 47.5 percent of property managers said according to feedback from prospective renters that a washer/dryer in the unit is the most important apartment amenity while just 9.2 percent said good closet space was on the top of renters’ wish lists.

Source: Rent.com

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Avoid Costly Mistakes by Investing in Home Performance Testing

October 17, 2012 6:28 am

By the end of 2012, homeowners across the country will have spent over $400 billion on home improvement projects, according to Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. Since 49 percent of homeowners are planning to stay put in their homes for at least the next six years, according to a poll by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, the home improvement market has become much busier than in the housing rush of the mid-2000's.

Investing in home improvements without third-party assessments has led to a number of costly side effects including carbon monoxide poisoning from the HVAC systems, sweating windows, moisture problems in attics, and temperature fluctuations. Testing your home's performance can help you avoid some of these costly issues.

The secret to making your home improvement dollars count is comprehensive third-party testing. Taking your home to the doctor before investing in a potentially misguided surgery is a necessary part of any home renovation. A third-party test can help you invest in only the improvements that are assured to make your home more healthy, comfortable, and durable, rather than those that are the most profitable or convenient for contractors to sell you (and which might cost you even more money to overhaul down the road).

Additionally, there are many local and utility-based incentive programs trying to lure homeowners with the promise of a "$99 assessment," which often doesn't give a homeowner any test data with which to make an educated investment. These programs have goals they must achieve, and their $99 lure seems like a good deal. As with any contracted help, make sure to check the company's credentials and/or secure a solid testimonial from a trusted source.

Source: Illinois Association of Energy Raters

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58 Percent of U.S. Consumers Will Wait for Travel Deals during 2012 Holidays

October 16, 2012 6:26 am

While 56 percent of respondents have begun saving for their holiday travel, more than half said they will still wait for travel deals before booking and planning their winter escapes, according to a recently released report entitled "Holiday Travel Buy-havior." The survey, which includes close to 2,000 individual responses, was conducted in late September.

The 2012 Holiday Travel Buy-havior Report points out the following:

-43 percent of consumers aren't traveling this holiday season, almost double to those expecting to travel more than 200 miles (28 percent).
-Of those who responded that they weren't traveling, 50 percent cite not enough vacation time, traveling with children, and expenses as deterrents from making travel plans.
-Only 17 percent of consumers are able to take longer than a week of vacation for holiday travel.
-Almost 60 percent of respondents said if they had the chance, they'd escape the urban jungle and go to a tropical paradise (43 percent), a snow-covered location (12 percent) or national park (5 percent).
-Only 12 percent of those that responded will spend over $1,000 on holiday travel. 52 percent expect to spend between $100-1,000 on travel between now and the New Year.
-11 percent aren't waiting for deals because they want their travel plans locked down and booked.

In light of these survey results, here are some tips for consumers looking to gain an edge over the holiday travel season:

Travel on non-shopping days—similar to the shopping crush and congested retail parking lots, more people are going to be traveling after work hours and Fridays through Sundays. If you can, opt instead to travel on Tuesday through Thursday.

Go online, instead of in line—if you're traveling out of town for the holidays, then buy those gifts online and ship ahead to your destination.

Find parking and transportation coupons—many people aren't aware that there are coupons and discounts through travel sites for parking lots, shuttle services, and rental cars.

If your suitcase is full, gift card it—if you know that you won't have room for those gifts in your suitcases before you buy them, then save yourself the hassle and just buy gift cards.

Stop at the roadside shops—for those traveling by car, the quirky little shops off the highways usually offer one-of-a-kind items that make a lasting impression.

Source: www.ShopAtHome.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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10 Tips to Prevent the Winter Blues

October 16, 2012 6:26 am

It's almost that time of year again -- cold weather, snow, ice, clouds and days with less sunlight. For parents, winter is a tough time -- finding activities that are always inside, worrying about snow days and delays and making sure kids get plenty of physical exercise even though the weather is cold and the days are shorter. On top of that some parents (and non parents) have to deal with a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This type of depression usually happens in the winter months due to the weather and shorter periods of daylight. Being that this type of depression is seasonal, the symptoms usually come back the same time every year and go away around the same time. The symptoms usually start late fall or early winter and the symptoms start to disappear when the warmer weather and longer days of sunlight return.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you are feeling under the weather during the cold winter months but are not sure if you are having seasonal affective disorder, here are some of the symptoms associated with it.

1. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and anxiety during the winter months
2. Feeling fatigue, loss of energy, trouble concentrating and unmotivated
3. The feelings of sadness, fatigue, isolation, etc., start out mild and become more severe as the winter progresses
4. Change in appetite and sleeping habits
5. Social withdrawal - loss of interest in social activities and hobbies

The cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is still unknown, but we know environmental factors plays a role.

Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder - 10 Tips to Prevent the Winter Blues

There are treatment options for SAD so you can stay happy during the longer, darker and colder winter days. Here are some tips to help prevent the winter blues:

1. Get as much light as you can even when you're indoors. Open the shade, roll up the curtains, move your desk near the windows, etc.

2. Spend time outdoors during the daylight hours. The weather is cold and snowy but we do know that being outside in the winter months is beneficial. Go outside for quick walks and sit in the sun to help lift your spirits. After a few days of spending some time outdoors, you will start feeling a little better.

3. Add exercise into your daily routine - even just walking produces endorphins and reduces stress hormones at the same time so you get a boost of happiness.

4. Make sure to add some fun into your life. Even though the weather keeps us homebound, it doesn't mean you can't have fun! Instead of feeling trapped inside, find ways to engage in things you love.

5. Be social even in the winter months. Adding more social activities where you will be surrounded with family and friends can give the extra support you need.

6. Take a vacation. Some clients feel a sense of isolation and loneliness in the winter months. If this is the case setting up vacation time in warm, sunny spots can help and give you something to look forward to.

7. Try "Light Therapy." We know that increased sunlight helps improve the symptoms of SAD. There are certain lights you can buy called "Light Therapy Boxes," which mimics outside light and helps you lift your mood and spirits.

8. See a counselor before winter starts. If you have a mild case, you can take preventive methods such as seeking a counselor right before late fall to start talking to someone who can help.

9. Medications - Doctors have prescribed anti-depressants that have worked well for some patients.

10. Psychotherapy is another great option. The therapist can help you identify your negative thoughts and behaviors and help change them. A therapist can also help you find good coping skills to feel better.

Source: Diane Lang, www.dlcounseling.com

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Feds Announce Radon Awareness Week

October 16, 2012 6:26 am

October 15-21 is Federal Radon Action Week according to The Surgeon General. Health agencies throughout the United States have joined forces to promote awareness of the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. The American Lung Association, Centers for Disease Control and National Cancer Institute all agree that radon is a national health problem and encourage radon testing during the October awareness drive.

Radon is a naturally-occurring, invisible and odorless radioactive gas. One in 15 American homes contains high levels of radon. Millions of Americans are unknowingly exposed to this dangerous gas. In fact, a recent study by Harvard University ranks radon as America’s No. 1 in-home hazard. By taking simple steps to test your home for radon and fix if necessary, this health hazard can be avoided.

Radon gas is not isolated to certain geographical areas or home types. Radon problems have been detected in homes in every county of the U.S. It caused more American fatalities last year than carbon monoxide, fires, and handguns combined. If a home hasn't been tested for radon in the past two years, EPA and the Surgeon General urge you to take action. Contact your state radon office for information on locating qualified test kits or qualified radon testers.

The federal commitment made by EPA, the General Services Administration, and the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Veterans Affairs will focus efforts on radon reduction and mitigation in homes, especially those of low-income families, many of whom do not have the resources to make the simple fixes necessary to protect their homes and loved ones.

Learn more about the Federal Radon Action Plan at www.RadonPlan.org.

Learn more at www.RadonWeek.org.

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11 Ways to Green Your Fall

October 15, 2012 6:26 am

The days are getting cooler; the nights are getting longer, and Mother Nature is changing her colors yet again. While some are battening down the hatches for a long winter, others are simply appreciating the relief from summer temperatures. Either way, fall is the perfect time of year to enjoy the great outdoors and add a few more green activities to your life. Here are a few simple ways to green the season:

1. Open your windows. Fall is the perfect time of year to turn off the thermostat and open the windows. You may have been cranking the AC all summer, costing you hundreds of dollars on your electric bill and burning loads of energy. But you’ll enjoy a much lower bill and a nice downsize in your eco footprint by just opening the windows. Opening the windows also helps air out your home before winter.

2. Prepare a local menu for Thanksgiving. It’s never too early to start preparing for your biggest culinary feat of the year. There’s nothing like a beautifully prepared Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends. Increase that feeling of community even more by preparing a local menu this Thanksgiving. Think outside the box and choose menu items that are locally-grown and in season in your area. You may even discover a new holiday favorite. If you’re a little intimidated at the thought of preparing an all-local meal, head down to your local farmers’ market and ask around. Find out what is in season and plan your meal from there. You can also ask your butcher for locally-farmed organic meats. Look for seasonal fall produce to create a scrumptious pie or warm casserole.

3. Attend a local festival. Whether it’s a pumpkin festival or a pie contest, Fall is the crispiest season for local fairs and festivals. Attending a festival in your area is a great excuse to get outside with your family and friends while supporting local vendors and artisans. Check out your town or municipality’s website for a full list of events in your area. If you’re feeling ambitious, join in on the fun. Enter your recipe in a local bake-off or your unusually large tomato in a town agricultural fair.

4. Choose an organic fertilizer. Fall is the best time to fertilize your lawn, according to The Lawn Institute, and choosing an organic fertilizer is better for your lawn and the planet. Some of the best fertilizers you can use are those you’ve made yourself from recycled leaves and lawn clippings. A four-inch layer of lawn clippings and leaves around plants allows you to fertilize much less and helps keep roots cool. This top layer also locks in water, reducing the need to water your foliage. Leaves and lawn clippings can also be easily composted and reused as fertilizer anywhere in your yard.

5. Use the whole gourd. Whether it’s a pumpkin carved for Halloween or a basket of squash as a Thanksgiving centerpiece, Fall is the season of the gourd. Many times these forgotten fruits are tossed in the trash after they’ve exhausted their ornamental usefulness, but they have a variety of other fun seasonal uses outside of decor. Try doing it differently this year, and use the whole thing. Toast up some pumpkin seeds for a tasty Fall treat; try out a new pumpkin pie recipe; choose edible squash for your centerpieces, and make them into a tasty soup the next day.

6. Tailgate like an eco-fan. With playoff baseball and the long-awaited football season, Sunday means “tailgate” for many Americans once the leaves begin to change. But don’t forget the planet during your celebration. To shrink your tailgate’s footprint, try setting up a waste station in the back of your car or truck, with bins for waste and recycling. For added bonus points, set up a bin for compost, too. To make sure everything stays clean, line the bin of your choice with a garbage bag and use non-toxic tape to adhere the bag to the outside of the bin. This will prevent the bag from slipping into the bin and that unhappy surprise in the back of your car. Also, try bringing all your tailgate goodies in reusable containers and switching to compostable cups and dinnerware.

7. Get crafty with decorations. Stores fill their shelves with seasonal decorations for Halloween and Thanksgiving, but why pay more for decor items when you can make them yourself? You can get the same holiday fun out of homemade decorations while using leftover supplies you have around the house. Try cutting up and painting some cardboard boxes for spooky Halloween lawn ornaments or wall-hangings. Take a stroll in the park and pick up some pinecones for the Thanksgiving table. DIY decorations will add some personality to your home decor, and getting the kids involved is a great holiday memory-maker.

8. Get outside. In some areas of the country, the days of warm weather are surely numbered. So, soak up the great outdoors while there’s still time, and do some of your fall entertaining outside. Throwing parties outside isn’t just fun. It saves on energy, too. Instead of setting the thermostat to the perfect level and turning on the lights in every room, you can make use of the perfect lighting and seasonable Fall temperatures right in your own back yard. Make the most of the season by throwing your weekly dinner party on the deck or planning one last cookout for the season.

For more information, visit www.earth911.com.

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Move to Improve Arthritis

October 15, 2012 6:26 am

More Americans are walking, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the news is a step in the right direction, the report also highlights a need for many more Americans to join the movement.

Importance of Movement
According to the CDC report, the number of Americans who walk at least 10 minutes at a time one or more days a week increased from 55.7 percent in 2005 to 62 percent in 2010 – a jump of about 6 percent. Among people with arthritis, the increase was about 4 percent.

While Americans are moving more than in years past, the CDC report also revealed fewer than half of all Americans are getting the government-recommended 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity like brisk walking to improve their health. Movement is especially important for people with arthritis and is one of the many ways to fight off arthritis. Walking, biking, swimming or even tennis can help reduce risk and improve pain.

Move to Improve
The Arthritis Foundation is taking steps to increase walking and physical activity to limit the effects of arthritis. As the nation’s leading cause of disability, arthritis affects one in five adults in the United States – more than 20 percent of the adult population. High rates of arthritis among people with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, make physical activity an even more important way to manage disease.

The Arthritis Foundation is calling on the nation to:
• Get Moving —The Arthritis Foundation’s Walk With Ease exercise program is a great resource to start moving. It’s safe, easy and motivating. And researchers have found that Walk With Ease can reduce pain, increase balance and strength, and improve overall health.
• Jingle With Us — Register for Jingle Bell Run/Walk Participation helps raise awareness and funds to fight arthritis.
• Wave With the World — If you’ve been touched by arthritis, join 50,000 people from 70 countries around the world waving in support of people with arthritis. Upload a photo at www.worldarthritisday.org/waving and post the photo on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using #WorldArthritisDay. Be sure to include a personal message about how arthritis affects you or someone important to you.

Source: Arthritis Foundation

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5 Financial Strategies to Help Victims of Domestic Abuse

October 15, 2012 6:26 am

Financial security and access to resources is the number one predictor of whether domestic violence victims will stay in or leave an abusive relationship. And insurance is an important component of financial planning that helps survivors prepare for a better life. To mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, here are a few financial strategies for anyone who is leaving or has left an abusive situation.

1. Secure Your Financial Records
These documents include your birth certificate, driver's license, passport, bank account and credit card information, insurance policies, etc. Keep these documents with a trusted family member or friend, or obtain a bank safety deposit box. Also, set up a P.O. Box to conceal all of your important mail from your abuser. This is essential to prevent identity theft or damage to your credit. Change your ATM and debit card PIN codes, as well as your online banking and email passwords. It is particularly important to close any joint banking or credit card accounts before you leave, in case your partner racks up charges. Remember that as long as there is an outstanding balance on a joint account, both parties are responsible for payment. You can also contact the Social Security Administration if you need to obtain a new Social Security number (SSN).

2. Know Where You Stand Financially
Knowledge is power, and it is critical that you understand where you stand financially. That means knowing your main sources of income, bank account balances, property owned and debts owed. If your spouse or partner has had control of the family finances, do you know if your bills—including the premiums on your insurance policies—have been paid? A lapsed policy or unpaid credit-card bill could create financial problems down the road, so try to learn as much as possible about your financial position when you are leaving an abusive situation.

3. Build a Financial Safety Net
Once you have a good idea of your financial picture, you are in a better position to plan your exit. You know what assets and liabilities you are dealing with and can begin envisioning how your life will be on your own. Begin with estimating your income and expenses to see if the money you earn right now will allow you to meet your basic needs. Also, start a savings plan and create an emergency fund so you have a safety net if things get difficult financially once you leave.

4. Make Necessary Changes to Your Insurance Plans
Auto Insurance: If you plan to take a car with you when you leave your abuser, you will need to get separate auto insurance coverage immediately. And if you buy a new car, you should purchase a new auto policy before the car is registered .Make sure you are removed from any joint auto policies as that may protect you from possible liability if your former partner is involved in an accident and gets sued. Keep in mind that moving to a different area or to a different state, or changing from a secondary to a primary driver on a vehicle can affect your auto policy rates.

Life Insurance: Unfortunately, if a life insurance policy on your own life is payable to the abuser, and you do not own the policy, you cannot change the beneficiary. However, if you do own the policy, you have the right to change the beneficiary, and probably should. With group insurance through your employer or an association, you can also change the beneficiary. When your beneficiary is a child or an elderly parent who has or could develop cognitive difficulties, they most likely will be unable to file a death claim on their own. So you should be careful to designate a guardian whom you trust to file the claim and use the money to care for your beneficiary.

If you have children or other dependents who would be affected financially by your death, it is important to get your own life insurance as soon as possible. Opting for term life insurance, which provides protection for a specific period of time, typically offers the greatest amount of coverage for the lowest initial premium cost and can make buying enough coverage affordable.

5. Maintain Good Credit
Having a good credit report is going to be essential when it comes to starting your new life, as it can help you more easily rent an apartment, get a new credit card and get better rates on your insurance—it can even affect your ability to get a job. The best way to keep your credit intact is to start making changes as soon as you have reached the decision to leave your abuser. Take care of your current debts and avoid missing any payments. Alert creditors if there is a change of address so that bills will continue to be received from all joint accounts and no late fees are incurred. Remember, women who drop their husband's name and use their maiden name will not erase the credit history established under their married name, as it is tied to social security numbers, not names. Establish a new credit record under your own name, especially if all previous credit was held jointly with your spouse. In order to expedite this process, consider turning existing joint credit cards, gas cards and retail accounts into individual accounts. Doing this will mean not having to re-establish your credit should you file for a divorce.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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