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

High Gas Prices Forcing Americans to Cut Back

April 13, 2012 2:22 am

With the approach of the warmer weather comes an expected increase in car travel as families hit the road for summer fun. However, higher gas prices may take a toll not only on road travel this summer but on other expenditures as well. 

According to a new Harris Poll, over half of Americans who own a vehicle (55 percent) say they have cut back on products and/or services in order to pay for the increased price of gasoline. As might be expected, those with lower household incomes are more impacted. Two-thirds (67 percent) of those with a household income of less than $35,000 a year have cut back on products or services because of higher gas prices compared to 37 percent of those who have a household income of $100,000 or more. 

According to the Harris Poll, there are many things people are cutting back on in order to pay for the increased price of gasoline. Three-quarters of those who have cut back have done so on dining out (75 percent) and driving in general (73 percent) while almost two-thirds have cut back on entertainment (65 percent) and weekend trips or day trips (65 percent). Three in five have cut back on reducing extras, such as luxury items (62 percent) and vacations (59 percent) while over half have cut back on clothing (55 percent) and movies (54 percent). Smaller, but still significant, numbers have cut back on groceries (38 percent), personal grooming, such as haircuts or manicures (37 percent), and auto repairs or upkeep (24 percent). 

In looking at who to blame for the rise in gas prices, over one-third of Americans (37 percent) say they blame the oil companies the most while one-quarter (25 percent) blame unrest in the Middle East. Political figures are also blamed by some; 17 percent blame President Obama the most; 5 percent blame Republicans in Congress the most; and 4 percent blame Democrats in Congress the most. 

So, who can best stop rising gas prices? Just over one-third of Americans (37 percent) say the oil and gas industry while three in ten (30 percent) believe the federal government can best stop rising gasoline prices. Fewer people believe consumers can stop rising gas prices (14 percent) while 4 percent say state and local governments can, 2 percent say the automotive industry, and 14 percent are not sure.

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Creating Your Homebuyer Wish List

April 13, 2012 2:22 am

If you’re embarking on the exciting process of searching for your first home, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. After all, from choosing the right location to securing the necessary financing, there are many important details to tackle.

These details can often cloud your judgment when looking at prospective homes to buy. However, in order to be happy in your new home for years to come, you must choose a property that embodies what’s most important to you. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends answering the following questions as a guide to selecting your first home:

1. What part of town/neighborhood do you want to live in?
2. What price range would you consider? Establish the maximum price you’d consider.
3. Are schools a factor and, if so, what do you need to take into consideration (i.e., the school system’s ranking, whether the kids can walk to school, etc.)?
4. Do you want an older home or a newer home (less than five years old)?
5. What kind of houses would you be willing to see (i.e., ranch, two-story, split level, condo, etc.)?
6. What style house appeals to you most (i.e., contemporary, traditional , colonial, etc.)?
7. How much renovation would you be willing to do?
8. Do you need to be close to public transportation?
9. Do you have any physical needs that must be met, such as wheelchair access?
10. Do you have any animals that will require special facilities?
11. What criteria does the lot the property sits on have to meet (i.e., acreage, fenced yard, two-car garage, patio/deck, views, etc.)?
12. What criteria does the interior of the home need to meet (i.e., number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, square footage, etc.)?
13. What features of the home are most important to you? Consider must-haves vs. would-like-to-haves:
• Air conditioning
• Wall-to-wall carpet
• Hardwood floors
• Eat-in kitchen
• Separate dining room
• Formal living room
• Family room
• Separate den or library
• Basement
• Fireplace
• “In-law” apartment
• Lots of windows (light)

Answering the above questions will help you hone in on what’s most important to you and what you can let go of. This exercise will also help you narrow your home search and find your new home much sooner.

Source: hud.gov

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How to Travel Productively

April 12, 2012 2:22 am

If you’re a frequent business traveler, chances are you’ve probably honed your strategies for traveling comfortably and productively. A recent article from Inc. magazine online offers six great tips from seasoned road warriors for making the most out of travel time:
  1. Stay Connected. Carry extra batteries, and battery powered chargers and adapters. Bring a high-quality hands-free set for your phone so that you can answer calls in noisy places and still be heard. Also consider getting a long-battery-life laptop with an extended battery, which can provide you with six to seven hours of battery life.
  2. Bring back-up. When you can’t connect to the Internet, be ready with reserves. Since you can’t always get to everything you need from your laptop or smartphone, print back-ups and/or put important documents on a memory stick.
  3. Travel light. Minimize the stress of last minute packing by keeping toiletries, technology kits and other basics ready to grab and go. Consider investing in a tablet, which gives you access to books, magazines, newspapers, games, movies, music and more all in one convenient, easy-to-carry place.
  4. Appoint a troubleshooter. Designate someone to coordinate what you can’t manage while traveling and have set times to check in and deal with questions. This will give you peace of mind that things are moving smoothly back at the office and help you avoid dealing with a fire drill while on the road.
  5. Tune in to your time zone. Seasoned travelers recommend changing your watch at take-off when traveling to another time zone. This will put you in the right mindset from the get-go. Once you arrive at your destination, try and stay up until the hour you’d normally go to bed. This will help your internal body clock reset more quickly.
  6. Plan time to recharge. Pushing relentlessly can be counter-productive, so be sure to make time to recharge, whether that be going for a run or taking in a local sight.
Source: Inc.com

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Check Your Temperature When Grilling

April 12, 2012 2:22 am

As the weather warms up and cooking duties move outside to the grill, don’t forget to take your meat thermometer with you. A staple of traditional oven cooking, the meat thermometer is just as important when grilling outdoors, preventing you from overcooking or undercooking meat.

According to Consumer Reports, not all grills cook evenly, so it's important to take the temperature of your meat. Just remember these three numbers: 145 degrees F for whole meats, 160 for ground meats and 165 for all poultry. A good meat thermometer costs only $15 to $40, and the most accurate in Consumer Reports’ testing were made by Polder, Oxo and Maverick.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its rules for cooking pork, saying that you can now cook it to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F, instead of 160, followed by a three-minute rest before carving. That's the same as beef, lamb and veal. According to the National Pork Board, this new standard temperature results in pork that is tender and juicy as opposed to tough and dry.

Consumer Reports also suggests checking the USDA's website for the proper cooking temperature, however, if your grill cooks unevenly, arriving at the right temperature will be a challenge. This is a key feature that Consumer Reports tests—technicians test cooking evenness at both low and high temperatures and recommended grills are those that ace these tests. Among Consumer Reports’ Best Buys for medium-sized grills are models from Char-Broil, Kenmore, Brinkmann and Aussie that range in price from $200 to $400.

Source: Consumer Reports

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Debt Collector Calling? How to Spot a Fake

April 12, 2012 2:22 am

Consumers across the country are reporting creditor calls on loans they never received or on amounts they do not owe, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is warning consumers to be on alert for scam artists posing as debt collectors.

However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate debt collector and a fake one. Sometimes a fake collector may even have some of your personal information, like a bank account number. According to the FTC, the caller may be a fake debt collector if they:
  • Are seeking payment on a debt for a loan you do not recognize
  • Refuse to give you a mailing address or phone number
  • Ask you for personal financial or sensitive information
  • Exert high pressure to try to scare you into paying, such as threatening to have you arrested or to report you to a law enforcement agency
If you suspect that a caller may be a fake debt collector, the FTC advises you to ask the caller for their name, company, street address, and telephone number. Tell the caller that you refuse to discuss any debt until you get a written "validation notice." The notice must include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor you owe, and your rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

If a caller refuses to give you all of this information, the FTC stresses that you should not pay. Doing so may only prolong the scam to pressure you into paying even more money. Here are the steps you should take instead:
  • Stop speaking with the caller. If you have the caller's address, send a letter demanding that the caller stop contacting you, and keep a copy for your files. By law, real debt collectors must stop calling you if you ask them to in writing.
  • Do not give the caller personal financial or other sensitive information. Never give out or confirm personal financial or other sensitive information like your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number unless you know whom you're dealing with. Scam artists, like fake debt collectors, can use your information to commit identity theft – charging your existing credit cards, opening new credit card, checking, or savings accounts, writing fraudulent checks, or taking out loans in your name.
  • Contact your creditor. If the debt is legitimate – but you think the collector may not be – contact your creditor about the calls. Share the information you have about the suspicious calls and find out who, if anyone, the creditor has authorized to collect the debt.
  • Report the call. Contact the FTC and your state Attorney General's office with information about suspicious callers. Many states have their own debt collection laws in addition to the federal FDCPA. Your Attorney General's office can help you determine your rights under your state's law.
Source: ftc.gov/credit

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Private Social Network for Neighborhoods Facilitates Safety

April 11, 2012 8:18 am

Nextdoor, the free and private social network for neighborhoods, recently added an Urgent Alerts feature. This new alert system allows Nextdoor members to immediately notify neighbors of important, time-sensitive information in 110 characters or less via mobile phone text, as well as by email. 

Research has shown that social networks within a neighborhood can lower crime and improve public health. Nextdoor was created with this goal in mind. With the release of Urgent Alerts, Nextdoor is reinforcing their commitment to help make neighborhoods safer places to live. 

Normally, when a member posts a message via Nextdoor, neighbors receive that message through an email, either immediately or in a daily digest. However, for especially urgent matters such as suspicious activity, a missing child, fires, floods and other disasters, a simple email may not be enough. Intended for use in time-sensitive cases, having access to these updates in real-time gives neighbors the ability to act fast, notify friends and family, and respond quickly to the situation at hand. 

To send an Urgent Alert message, a member simply needs to sign-in to their account and click the "Send alert" icon above the post box on the homepage. Members have the option of receiving the alert via email alone or along with an SMS text message. It is important to note that mobile numbers are not made public within a neighborhood unless members elect to share that information themselves in their Nextdoor profile. 

For more information, visit Nextdoor.com.

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Survey Shows What Deck Owners Pine For

April 11, 2012 8:18 am

Many homeowners’ dreams of a fully loaded, beautifully designed deck remain out of reach, according to a recent study conducted by Thompson Companies via Facebook. 

More than 2,000 people responded to the query, "What would you do if you won $15,000 to spend on your deck?" Facebook fans were asked to rate how strongly they felt about 11 different options, with one being the least interested and 10 being the most interested. The number one answer, with 47 percent of respondents rating it a 10, was to tear out the current deck and start over. 

The survey found that alterations that improve both beauty and functionality were the most popular choices. Next in line, chosen by 43 percent of respondents, was to add lighting. Improving the landscaping and adding built-ins, like benches and storage, tied at 41 percent each. Rounding out the top five improvements, at 40 percent, was the choice to enlarge an existing deck. 

Outdoor kitchens have been a popular project, but only 28 percent of those taking the survey would spend their dollars here – possibly underscoring a shift toward practicality over luxury. Other possible ways to spend the windfall were to get new furniture (34 percent), change to composite or exotic wood (29 percent), repair damaged wood (25 percent), change the color (24 percent) and add a water feature. 

The last question asked participants to list anything else they'd add to the deck of their dreams. While many named hot tubs or fire pits, others asked for shade and enclosures, reinforcing the finding that homeowners want their decks to be a comfortable outdoor living space that can be used as often as possible. Many people stated simply that having a place for friends and family to gather would be enough. 

Enter Thompsons “Deck of Your Dreams” Sweepstakes at the company's website (www.thompsonswaterseal.com), running now through October.

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U.S. Economy Expected to Grow 2.9 Percent over Next Year, Says Report

April 11, 2012 8:18 am

The U.S., Japan and Australia are expected to escape recession over the next 12 months, with the U.S. economy now expected to expand by 2.9 percent over the period, according to the Spring Outlook report from Mellon Capital Management Corporation, part of BNY Mellon Asset Management, a global financial services company. 

Excluding the U.S., Japan and Australia, most developed countries are expected to experience a mild recession over the next year, with European countries at the highest risk, the report added. 

"The U.S. economy is continuing to strengthen and we now put the probability of anemic U.S. growth at less than five percent," explains Lex Huberts, president of Mellon Capital. "This is a significant improvement from September, when the probability was closer to 20 percent that the U.S. economy would grow at less than two percent over the next year. 

"Looking at our forward estimates of economic fundamentals, we are cautiously optimistic on stocks given the signs of economic recovery in the U.S., positive steps toward resolving the euro area debt crisis and the general stabilization of earnings forecasts in Europe," adds Huberts. "However, tensions with Iran are a concern." 

The report also notes that Mellon Capital is moderately positive on commodities, favors emerging markets equities and favors the Australian dollar and Canadian dollar among developed market currencies at this time. 

Source: BNY Mellon

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'Mad Men' Effect Sparks Return of 'Secretaries'

April 10, 2012 2:18 am

A recent survey of administrative professionals witnessed a significant increase in the use of the term “secretary” to describe one’s job title. This shift marks a reversal of popularity for a job title that has been in decline for at least 20 years.

With the 60th anniversary of Administrative Professionals Day approaching on April 25, the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) conducted a biannual benchmarking survey of its members on a variety of topics, including job titles, responsibilities, salaries, job satisfaction, and technology.

Though the top two job titles for IAAP members were Executive Assistant (29 percent) and Administrative Assistant (25 percent), the third most common job title was Administrative Secretary (7 percent). That's the first time in several years that Administrative Secretary made it into the top three job titles. In fact, the number of admins with "secretary" in their titles nearly doubled in two years, going from 8 percent to nearly 15 percent.

It's unclear why there are more secretaries, though the IAAP believes it may be due to a "Mad Men Effect." The popular AMC series may stoke nostalgia for the classic image of the American corporate secretary.
Regardless of their titles, admins are professional and integral members of their office teams. In 2011, administrative professionals supported an increasing number of executives or managers. Approximately two-thirds report that their level of workplace autonomy and authority has increased in the last five years. About 80 percent say their overall contribution at work has also increased during the same period.

Source: International Association of Administrative Professionals

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Americans Leaning More Towards Home Buying

April 10, 2012 2:18 am

More consumers may be looking to purchase homes with a shift in several key housing market indicators, according to Fannie Mae's March 2012 consumer attitudinal National Housing Survey.

More Americans now expect both home rental and home purchase prices to increase over the next year. Nearly half of consumers expect higher rental prices, the highest number recorded since monthly tracking began in June 2010. Thirty-three percent expect home prices to increase, up 5 percentage points since last month, and the highest percentage recorded in over a year. In addition, confidence in consumers' views of their own finances is stabilizing—for three straight months—44 percent believe their personal finances will get better over the next year. These trends may be providing Americans with an increased sense of urgency to buy a home as 73 percent of Americans now believe it is a good time to buy a home, up from 70 percent in February.

"Conditions are coming together to encourage people to want to buy homes," says Doug Duncan, vice president and chief economist of Fannie Mae. "Americans' rental price expectations for the next year continue to rise, reaching their record-high level for our survey this month. With an increasing share of consumers expecting higher mortgage rates and home prices over the next 12 months, some may feel that renting is becoming more costly and that homeownership is a more compelling housing choice."

Here are several other important survey highlights:
  • 33 percent of respondents expect home prices to increase over the next 12 months, a five percentage point increase from last month, the highest level over the past 12 months.
  • On average, Americans expect home prices to increase by 0.9 percent over the next 12 months (up slightly since last month).
  • 39 percent of Americans say that mortgage rates will go up in the next 12 months, a five percentage point increase from last month.
  • The percentage of respondents who say it is a good time to buy rose by three points to 73 percent, the highest level in over a year, while the percentage of respondents who say it is a good time to sell rose one point to 14 percent this month.
  • On average, respondents expect home rental prices to increase by 4.1 percent over the next 12 months, a significant increase since February, and the highest number recorded to date.
  • 48 percent of respondents think that home rental prices will go up, a three percentage point increase from last month and the highest number recorded to date.
  • 66 percent of respondents say they would buy their next home if they were going to move, up one point since last month, while 30 percent say they would rent, up one point versus last month.
  • The rise in confidence in the economy's direction leveled this month, with 35 percent responding that they think the economy is on the right track, consistent with February's total. The percentage who say the economy is on the wrong track rose slightly from 57 percent to 58 percent.
  • Only 12 percent think that their personal financial situation will worsen in the next 12 months, consistent with February as the lowest value in over a year, and tied with January 2011 for the lowest to date.
  • 21 percent of respondents say their income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago, up 1 point versus February, while 63 percent say it has stayed the same - consistent with February's values.
  • 34 percent say their expenses have increased significantly over the past 12 months (a slight increase of one percentage point).
Source: Fannie Mae

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