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

Is Your Auto Insurance Sufficient? Time to Look Again

March 28, 2012 1:12 am

While you may believe you have ample car insurance, the cars on the road around you may not.

According to the Insurance Research Council (IRC), about 14 percent of drivers nationwide (roughly one in seven) are uninsured. That means that of the nearly 5.5 million car accidents in 2009, nearly 770,000 involved an uninsured driver. While this number usually decreases as unemployment rates improve, it’s a prudent idea to make sure your insurance is sufficient for covering an accident with an uninsured driver. 

According to North Carolina attorney Dre Fleury with the law firm Crumley Roberts, the minimum required coverage is usually not enough. 

"You can't always avoid an auto accident, but you can protect yourself financially, and you may find that for just a few extra dollars per month you could quadruple your coverage," advises Fleury. 

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for ensuring enough coverage. Factors such as age, driving record, where you live, family size and much more can affect your insurance costs and coverage needs. 

"Policies can be very detailed and highly personalized, but the key areas you want to review are liability and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage," says Fleury. "Medical payments coverage is also a great thing to have in your policy. 

"It's not just uninsured or underinsured drivers who pose a risk," adds Fleury. "If you're at fault in an accident, not having enough liability coverage could wipe you out financially, and the person you injure can even come after your home, assets and more." 

To help balance out the increased costs of liability insurance, Fleury suggests decreasing your collision and comprehensive insurance if you have an older car with no loan. 

Source: Crumley Roberts, LLP

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

New App Helps Gardeners Succeed

March 28, 2012 1:12 am

If you’re lacking in the green thumb department, a new app might be just what you need. The recently launched GardenMinder™ App for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch is now available on the App Store. Created by Gardener's Supply and Green Mountain Digital, the app helps you start and maintain a healthy vegetable garden with built-in reminders and how-to's. 

The GardenMinder App helps both new and experienced gardeners plan, maintain, and record the progress of their kitchen vegetable gardens with various features, including: 

• A visual garden planner tool. Start with a pre-planned herb and vegetable garden or create your own using GardenMinder's built-in image and information library, which contains more than 70 of the most common vegetable types.
• Weekly alerts and 'Gardening Success Reminders.' Weekly reminders are tailored to only the crops you grow and based on frost dates for your locations. Go through and check off your reminders as you complete them. You will then receive weekly push notifications to remind you of your upcoming garden activities.
• Easy-access to 'How-To's.' GardenMinder's planting and care instructions, plus troubleshooting tips and a plant encyclopedia detailing the most popular vegetable crops, are easily accessible in the app.
• Create your own 'Personal Garden Journal.' Capture your garden in a journal with before-and-after photos, note planting progress, monitor growth, etc., you’re your personalized own GardenMinder. How-to's are linked in each reminder for easy access. You can tag each entry with a specific vegetable and share your success with friends via Facebook or email. This tool helps track your successes—and problems—for next year. 

For more information, please visit www.greenmountaindigital.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Economic Index for Euro Area Increases in February

March 27, 2012 1:08 am

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® (LEI) for the Euro Area increased 0.8 percent in February, rising to 105.2 (2004=100), following increases of 1.1 percent in January and 0.5 percent in December.

Said Jean-Claude Manini, The Conference Board senior economist for Europe: "The LEI for the Euro Area rose for a third consecutive month in February, boosted once again by investor and business confidence. However, the recent volatility of business confidence highlights the fragility of the near-term improvement and, in particular, the weakness of domestic demand for the Euro Area as a whole. Economic activity may have contracted for a second consecutive quarter, but the likeliest scenario based on the LEI still suggests that subdued growth in economic activity will resume in the coming months."

The Conference Board Coincident Economic Index® (CEI) for the Euro Area, which measures current economic activity, decreased 0.1 percent in February. The index stands at 102.4 (2004 = 100) according to preliminary estimates. The CEI remained unchanged in January and decreased 0.1 percent in December.

The eight components of The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® for the Euro Area include:
  • Economic Sentiment Index (source: European Commission DG-ECFIN)
  • Index of Residential Building Permits Granted (source: Eurostat)
  • Index of Capital Goods New Orders (source: Eurostat)
  • EURO STOXX® Index (source: STOXX Limited)
  • Money Supply (M2) (source: European Central Bank)
  • Interest Rate Spread (source: ECB)
  • Eurozone Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (source: Markit Economics)
  • Eurozone Service Sector Future Business Activity Expectations Index (source: Markit Economics)

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

How to Declutter for Spring

March 27, 2012 1:08 am

Now that it’s officially spring, the urge to clean and declutter descends upon many homeowners. The prospect of tackling spring cleaning, however, can be overwhelming, to say the least. Here are some helpful tips from Apartment Finder to make spring cleaning quick and efficient so that you can get out and start enjoying the great weather.
  • Make a plan. Decide which projects take priority. Does your closet need a massive redo? Are your kitchen drawers so filled with clutter they won’t open? Are you buried under an avalanche of assorted storage containers every time you open your kitchen cabinet? Once you decide what you want to tackle, put it on your calendar. Setting a date will keep you from finding excuses to put it off, and it will give you time to plan.
  • Be creative. You have a target date and a list of projects—now what? Before you begin, think about what storage features you are lacking. Be creative. For example, try using bins to create easy weeknight meals in a basket. A bin labeled “spaghetti night” would contain pasta, a jar of sauce, and a loaf of Italian bread.
  • Make some room. If you’re like most people, your closet might also be in serious need of attention. Shoe organizers and storage bins are always useful in the closet. Take everything out of the closet until you have an empty space. Sort everything you haven’t worn or used in the past year into two piles: toss and give away. Place items back into your closet by type (pants, skirts, suit jackets, etc.). If you have empty wall space in your closet, add hooks (the removable type is perfect). The more hooks, the better—use these for belts, ties, and scarves.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Guidelines for Purchasing a Home Warranty

March 27, 2012 1:08 am

A home service contract, otherwise known as a home warranty, provides homeowners with peace of mind that the cost of repairing or replacing an appliance or major system will be covered. However, many people are unaware of exactly how a home warranty works. The Service Contract Industry Council (SCIC), a leading advocate on behalf of consumers and the home service contract industry, offer the following guidelines for purchasing a home warranty.

What is a home service contract?

The typical home service contract is a one-year contract that protects a homebuyer or current homeowner against the cost of unexpected repairs or replacement of major systems and appliances that breakdown due to normal usage or defects in materials or workmanship. A home service contract can:
  • Lessen the risk of costs and delays if a system, system component or appliance malfunctions during the selling process
  • Help to resolve issues discovered during the home inspection stage
  • Reduce any after-sale liability by a seller
  • Add value and improve marketability of homes
  • Increase a buyer's confidence in their home investment
Who sells home service contracts?
REALTORS®, builders and independent providers sell home service contracts. A home service contract can be purchased at any time, including at the time of purchase, and is usually transferable to a new owner, although a small transfer fee may apply.

What is the difference between a home service contract and homeowner's insurance?

  • Home service contracts typically cover the major systems in your home in the event of breakdown or malfunction including electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems, and built-in appliances such as ranges, washers and whirlpool baths.
  • Homeowner's insurance covers the structure of a home and personal belongings in case of a fire or natural disaster such as hurricanes and lightning, and provides liability coverage in case someone is injured on the property.
  • Home service contracts are optional in real estate transactions.
  • Homeowner's insurance is almost always required, especially if the buyer has a mortgage.
  • A home service contract is not a substitute for a homeowner's insurance policy. A home service contract is a beneficial supplement to a homeowner's insurance policy as homeowner's policies generally do not cover items for breakdowns or malfunctions due to normal wear and tear or defects in materials or workmanship.
Do I need to be buying or selling a home to purchase a home service contract?
No. A home service contract provides valuable protection for current homeowners when a system or appliance fails.

Can I transfer my home service contract to the new buyer of my home?
Most home service contracts are transferable and may offer the option to allow the buyer to change or upgrade the service contract. A low-cost transfer fee may apply.

Can I customize the home service contract to meet the needs of my home?
Yes, but fees may apply. You may be able to purchase a home service contract that covers smaller appliances such as ceiling fans and built-in microwaves. Additional fees apply for coverage for private wells and septic systems.

How are contractors screened?
SCIC member companies typically put their contractors through a rigorous screening process that includes state license verification, detailed reference verification, and background checks.

How do I file a claim?
Homeowners are given a toll-free number to call. The home service contract company will verify your coverage and dispatch an independent contractor to assess the problem and replace or repair the item as necessary. A service fee, $50 on average, is charged per service visit.

What Can Cause a Denial of Payment?
  • Improper maintenance
  • Code violations
  • Unusual wear and tear
  • Improper installation
What is generally NOT covered?
  • Outdoor items such as sprinklers
  • Faucet repairs are not covered under all plans
  • Garage door openers
  • Spas or pools, unless specific coverage is requested
  • Permit fees
What are the consumer's responsibilities?
Home service contract coverage varies from state to state and from policy to policy so the consumer needs to:
  • Request a copy of the contract before buying
  • Read the provisions carefully and become thoroughly familiar with all coverage, limitations and exclusions
  • Carefully fulfill all contract responsibilities, such as regular filter changes for your heating/air conditioning systems
  • Keep the service contract paperwork, original receipt(s), and all maintenance records
  • Research the service contract company
Source: Service Contract Industry Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Healthy Lawns and Landscapes Boost First Impressions

March 26, 2012 1:08 am

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, “curb appeal sells 49 percent of all homes.” Episode one of national lawn care service TruGreen’s new webisode series shares three tips for updating your home’s first impression this spring, just in time for the peak home-selling season.

Tip 1: Watering Right

Improper watering of your lawn and landscapes can be a drain on your home’s curb appeal. In spring, check the working condition of sprinkler heads and related water lines to ensure they’re functioning properly. Also, make sure your automated or manual watering method efficiently covers the landscape. You can place a one-inch deep, empty food can in the middle of your lawn to measure depth of water collected each watering cycle.

Don’t over or under water your lawn. Give your lawn and landscape a slow, steady watering about once a week, and adjust your watering schedule depending on your area’s rainfall, grass and soil type. Be aware of local water restrictions.

Tip 2: Complement with Color
Create an instant pop of color and help your home’s curb appeal bloom this spring. Consider your home’s exterior when selecting flowering plant combinations for plant beds, window boxes or front porch planters. With a white house, any color combination will work well. With a yellow house, red or pink blooms tend to complement best.

Dead plants can quickly wilt your home’s walk-up allure. When preparing to plant, ensure proper drainage, nutrients and moisture for healthy root systems and blooms.

Tip 3: Grass vs. Weeds
Grass is starting to compete with weeds for space and nutrients this spring. However, a lawn care approach that works in one region of the country doesn’t necessarily work the same in another area.
According to Ben Hamza, Ph.D., TruGreen expert and director of technical operations, TruGreen will design a custom plan to provide your yard exactly what it needs to give your lawn the right start.

For more information, please visit TruGreen.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Tightest Housing Markets in the U.S.

March 26, 2012 1:08 am

A simple measure of tightness in a market for owner-occupied housing is the homeowner vacancy rate (number of homes for sale divided by the number either for sale or owner-occupied). Builders are often interested in markets that are tight by this measure, because it indicates prospective buyers will have difficulty finding a suitable home among the available existing units.

Several federal government surveys provide homeowner vacancy rates, but the one with the greatest geographic detail by far is the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). In a recent study, NAHB tabulated the most recent (2010) ACS data for all metropolitan areas in the country.

Overall, the tightest markets tend to be relatively small: Corvallis, Ore. (with a homeowner vacancy rate of 0.23 percent), Lebanon, Pa. (0.49 percent), Billings, Mont. (0.54 percent), San Angelo, Texas (0.61 percent), and Eau Claire, Wis. (also 0.61 percent).

The two tightest large markets in 2010—Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y. and Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif.—were also the two tightest large markets the last time NAHB looked at the ACS data in 2008.
The NAHB study provides a rundown of the top-10 metros according to nine key measures, including: owner-occupied housing units; homeownership rate; homeowner vacancy rate; share of single-family detached homes; value of homes owned; homeowner incomes; growth in stock of single-family detached homes; and share of homes built recently. It also has a spreadsheet that shows how more than 350 other metro areas stack up in each category.

Read the original article at the National Association of Home Builder blog, Eye on Housing, www.nahb.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

FTC Legal Action Stops Alleged Mortgage Relief Scammers

March 26, 2012 1:08 am

At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a U.S. district court has halted an operation that took in more than $1 million by allegedly selling homeowners bogus mortgage relief and foreclosure rescue products, including a scam that falsely promised to get help for homeowners who joined others to file so-called “mass joinder” lawsuits against their lenders. This is the FTC’s first case against alleged scammers who pitch these kinds of lawsuits.

The order also freezes the operation's assets and appoints a permanent receiver to run it while the FTC moves forward with the case. Among other things, the agency will seek money for possible refunds for consumers.

As part of its continuing crackdown on mortgage relief scams, the FTC filed a complaint against Santa Ana, California-based Sameer Lakhany and five companies he controlled. Lakhany also did business using three websites, HouseHoldRelief.org, FreeFedLoanMod.org, and MyHomeSupport.org. The complaint charges that the defendants victimized hundreds of consumers with two related scams.

In one scam, the FTC claims the defendants masqueraded as a specialty law firm, Precision Law Center, and sent out direct mail resembling a class action settlement notice, holding out the false promise to consumers that if they sued their lenders along with other homeowners in so-called “mass joinder” lawsuits, they could obtain favorable mortgage concessions from their lenders or stop the foreclosure process. In fact, the defendants allegedly operated a sham law firm and only engaged attorneys briefly to file the lawsuits, after which either the defendants neglected the suits, or the suits were dismissed. According to the FTC, they charged $6,000 to $10,000 in advance, but failed to get the results they promised.

The material also allegedly claimed that 80 to 85 percent of these suits are successful, and that consumers might also: receive their homes free and clear; have their principal balance reduced to 70 percent of the current value and their interest rate reduced by half; be refunded any accrued interest, penalties, and charges; improve their standing with credit reporting agencies; and receive monetary damages.

In the other scam, the defendants allegedly promised but failed to deliver relief from affordable mortgages and foreclosures, typically charging consumers between $795 to $1,595 each for a so-called “forensic loan audit.” According to the FTC, the defendants told consumers these audits would find lender violations 90 percent of the time or more, and that the resulting legal leverage would force their lender to give them a loan modification that would substantially improve their mortgage terms. The defendants falsely portrayed themselves as non-profit, free, accredited, or HUD-certified housing counselors with special qualifications to help obtain mortgage loan modifications and avoid foreclosure. They promised consumers that the forensic loan audit would be the only charge not covered by their “free” service, and that if the “audit” did not turn up any violations, consumers could get a 70 percent refund and still obtain a loan modification. They also told consumers their loan modification requests would be seriously delayed without the audit, according to the complaint.

In its complaint, the FTC charged the defendants with violating the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, now known as Regulation O.

For more information, please visit www.ftc.gov.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Millenials Want New Ways to Pay, Says Survey

March 23, 2012 1:06 am

New research about the future of payments by American Express shows that over half (52 percent) of consumers ages 18-24 are likely to try new technology-enabled payment tools as they become available compared with 23 percent of those ages 55-65, suggesting that the fate of emerging payments clearly lies in the hands of millennials. However, all consumers agree that security is most important, with 83 percent of consumers ranking it higher than loyalty programs, benefits, fees/costs to use, user friendliness and convenience.

“Millennials will be key to the success of online and mobile payments, but above all else, the research shows that consumers want their payment tools to be safe and secure,” explains Dan Schulman, president, Enterprise Growth at American Express.

The findings are from recent research commissioned by American Express, including a quantitative survey and focus groups that explored U.S. consumers’ attitudes and behaviors with current and emerging payments, such as payments made by prepaid cards, mobile phones, digital wallets, and near field communication (NFC), commonly referred to as “contactless payments.”

Consumers want trusted institutions – not Internet or social media companies – to develop new payments, as 62 percent of consumers prefer financial institutions take the lead on new payment methods, rather than wireless providers and Internet companies. Additionally:
  • 75 percent of consumers are confident that financial services companies will do what is needed to protect the security of their financial information.
  • 83 percent of consumers view security as the single most important concern for consumers when considering a new payment technology, with 62 percent saying that fees are the second most important factor.
  • Focus groups supported the findings that, while consumers are open to new technology like NFC, security is still top of mind. One focus group participant questioned how NFC signals were guaranteed secure, while another said, “I don’t leave my purse anywhere but I sure left my phone places… the last thing I want is a device that has my whole life on it.”
How people choose to pay varies by generation, and it is clear that young people are at the forefront in terms of technology adoption. Respondents ages 18-24 are mobile gadget enthusiasts, owning laptops, mobile gaming devices, smartphones and music players, while those over the age of 45 are less likely to own and use these on a daily basis.

In addition to being open to using new digital tools, the research showed how the attitudes of millennials differed from older generations around key issues, such as security.
  • Millennials (18-24) continue to be at the forefront of technology, with 86 percent owning a laptop and more than 61percent owning a smartphone.
  • When buying something online, 58 percent of 18-24 year olds find mobile apps somewhat or very convenient compared with only 26 percent of those between 55-65 who find mobile apps somewhat or very convenient.
  • Similarly, 69 percent of 55-65 year olds do not feel secure shopping on a social media site, while the same can be said for 55 percent of 18-24 year olds.
Source: American Express

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Watch Out for Pests during Spring Cleanup

March 23, 2012 1:06 am

With the arrival of spring, homeowners and gardeners are beginning the task of cleaning up their yards and gardens to prepare for the growing season. However, gardeners, landscapers, and anyone working outside this spring need to know that tree branches, firewood, and cleared brush can harbor invasive insects and diseases, making proper use or disposal critical to preventing the spread of tree-killing pests.

More than 450 non-native forest insects and diseases are now established in the United States. While most can't move far on their own, many pests can hitchhike undetected on firewood and brush, starting new infestations in locations hundreds of miles away. These infestations can destroy forests, lower property values, and cost huge sums of money to control. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, estimates for damage costs in urban areas for just one invasive pest, the Asian longhorned beetle, range from $1.7 billion for nine selected cities to $669 billion for the entire United States.

Here are some tips for a pest-free spring cleanup:
  • If you don't want to keep your firewood until next winter, don't be tempted to take it with you when camping, and don't bring it along on any road trips. Instead, give it to your next-door neighbor, burn or chip it on site, or dispose of it locally.
  • Hire a tree service or rent a tree chipper to shred fallen trees and branches and brush into mulch for your own garden beds and landscaping projects.
  • Many areas now offer a yard waste recycling program. Contact your municipal solid waste management department for information specific to your area.
  • If a yard waste recycling or composting program is not available, and you cannot keep it on site, brush, logs, and branches should be disposed of in a local landfill.
  • Take care to respect all state and local regulations on the movement of firewood and other unprocessed wood – some areas are subject to serious fines for violations.
  • During your spring cleanup, if you notice an insect or tree disease you don't recognize, take a photo or obtain a specimen of it, and compare it to website photos of the suspected pest.
  • If you believe you have found a new outbreak of an invasive insect or disease, contact your state department of agriculture.
Source: The Nature Conservancy

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags: