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

Go Green and Save Green This Spring with Simple Energy-Saving Tips

April 25, 2012 2:40 am

Even though Earth Day has come and gone, it’s a good time to remember that energy efficiency can help “green” the planet while keeping more “green” in your wallet, says the Alliance to Save Energy.

In fact, based on April data from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Alliance has calculated that the average U.S. household will spend about $2,100 on home energy this year.

“Consumers who experienced high winter heating bills and are already contending with spiraling gasoline prices are eager to spend less on home energy this spring and summer,” said Alliance President Kateri Callahan. “Energy efficiency not only significantly cuts home energy costs, it also increases indoor comfort.”

To help U.S. consumers go green and save green this spring, the Alliance offers the following energy-saving tips:

Seal air leaks and properly insulate.
This should always be the first step toward reducing energy waste as it can save homeowners up to 20 percent on heating and cooling bills. In addition, taking the time to seal air leaks and properly insulate will increase your home’s comfort.

Turn things off. Take the time to turn off all lights, appliances and electronics when you’re not using them.

Take advantage of window coverings. Close blinds located on the sunny side of your home during the summer and open them in the winter.

Get with the program. A programmable thermostat, properly programmed, can save up to 10 percent on heating and cooling costs.

Look for the Energy Star label. The government’s symbol for energy efficiency, the Energy Star label can be found on a wide range of consumer products and can save homeowners up to 30 percent on related electricity bills.

New and improved light bulbs. Reduce energy use from about a third to as much as 80 percent with today’s increasing number of energy-efficient halogen incandescents, compact fluorescents and LEDs.

Clean or change furnace filters regularly.
A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm.

Reduce water heater temperature to 130° F.
Lowering your water heater’s temperature will save you both energy and money. Be sure to wrap the water storage tank in a specially-designed “blanket” to retain the heat as well.

Switch to cold water.
Washing your clothes in cold water will help you save money on laundry day.
Use low-flow faucets and shower heads to save money on water bills, too.

Source: Alliance to Save Energy

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Common Weather Conditions Wreak Havoc on Home's Exterior

April 25, 2012 2:40 am

According to Debbie Zimmer, paint and color expert at the Paint Quality Institute, the weather and environment can wreak havoc on your home’s exterior. Even common conditions like strong sunlight, rain and fluctuating temperatures place stress on our abodes—and the exterior paint that protects them.

Here’s how common weather conditions can cause your home’s paint job to suffer:

Sun. While most people are happiest on sunny days, the same bright conditions can wreak havoc on paint. “Ultraviolet rays tend to deteriorate the binder in exterior paint in much the same way that the rays can harm the skin on our bodies,” explains Zimmer. “As the paint’s binder breaks down, pigment is released in the form of a powder that can wash away in the next rainstorm. When paint erodes, the result is faded color and diminished protection for the home.”

Moisture. Rain, snow, frost and even high humidity can also be hazardous for exterior paint. In fact, any form of moisture can cause paint to soften and swell, eventually leading to blistering, cracking, peeling or flaking. On top of that, moist conditions support the growth of mildew, which can mar the appearance of any paint job.

Temperature fluctuation.
Changing temperatures cause wood and many other exterior surfaces to expand and contract, sometimes dramatically. If the paint on top of the surface isn’t flexible enough, this movement can cause the paint to crack and flake off.

Since we can’t control the weather, we need to take steps to protect our homes from nature’s climatic stressors. According to Zimmer, that means addressing small problems before they become major issues, properly preparing exterior surfaces before painting them, and applying the highest quality paint, which, in most circumstances, means using a top quality 100 percent acrylic latex coating.

Top quality 100 percent acrylic latex paints resist weather stressors in several ways, says Zimmer:
-Compared to ordinary paints, high quality coatings are less affected by ultraviolet rays, so they tend to resist the sun’s bleaching effects.
-They adhere well to the painted surface, so there is less chance of blistering, even in very moist conditions.
-They contain more mildewcide than ordinary paint, which helps prevent mildew from forming on the exterior surface.
-They are tough and flexible, which allows them to expand and contract with temperature swings, rather than cracking and flaking.
Yes, there is hope for homes that are victims of stress…in the form of preventative medicine. Make timely repairs, do good surface preparation and always apply two coats of top quality 100 percent acrylic latex house paint, and your home will be better able to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws our way.

Source: Paint Quality Institute

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tree Protection Tips to Keep in Mind This Arbor Day

April 24, 2012 2:40 am

On April 27, millions of Americans will observe Arbor Day by planting new trees. While planting trees is important to the well-being of our forests, it is just as critical to learn how to protect both new and older trees from damage by invasive insects and diseases. The death of large, mature trees due to these pests can be devastating to neighborhoods, parks and natural areas.

When Julius Sterling Morton declared the first Arbor Day in 1872 in Nebraska, he was ahead of his time in understanding the value of trees. According to the U.S. Forest Service, a 20-year-old tree providing shade on private property can return to the homeowner an average of $102 in annual energy savings, while only costing $15 to plant and maintain. A public tree that same age, such as the ones you find on your street, returns $96 in annual energy savings, storm water runoff reduction, cleaner air, higher property values and other benefits for every $36 spent on planting, mulching, pruning and other care. Over its lifetime, a large tree in the northeast, for example, will provide almost $6,000 in these benefits.

In addition to the monetary value trees provide, a poll conducted by The Nature Conservancy found that 95 percent of the public consider trees to be an important part of the character and quality of life where they live, and that 93 percent are concerned about the insects and diseases that kill trees.

"Unfortunately, tens of thousands of trees are destroyed by invasive tree-killing insects and diseases every year," said Leigh Greenwood, Don't Move Firewood campaign manager, The Nature Conservancy. "On Arbor Day, if everyone makes a commitment to take simple steps, like not moving firewood when they travel or camp, we can work together as a nation to save both newly planted and already existing trees from being lost from our roadsides, backyards and natural areas."

The dangers of exotic forest pests in North America first became evident in the late 1800s with the arrival of white pine blister rust on infested pine seedlings as well as the accidental introduction of the hardwood-loving gypsy moth. Chestnut blight soon followed, and this blight spread rapidly across the continent, killing millions of mature chestnut trees. Over the last hundred years, other introduced species of invasive insects and diseases have killed tens of millions of trees in cities, towns and forests across the country. These tree-killing pests include Dutch elm disease, Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer, thousand cankers disease, hemlock woolly adelgid, sudden oak death, Sirex woodwasp and many others.

"Prevention by everyday citizens is the key to averting widespread devastation of urban and backyard trees as well as wild forests," said Greenwood. "Many of these insects and diseases can only be stopped by destroying the trees that are infested—a necessary but undesirable method that is most clearly tragic when entire neighborhoods lose their precious tree cover."

Tree protection tips:
-Buy your trees and plants from a reputable source, and purchase certified, pest-free nursery stock whenever possible.
-Tree-killing pests can be found in a variety of wood products. Most problematic are firewood, brush, yard waste, tree debris and re-used wood packaging material. Avoid the long-range movement of these materials to help slow the spread of pests. Buy, use and dispose of these wood products locally.
-If you have been camping or hiking in a forested area, clean your equipment, boots, animals and gear before returning home so not to spread unwanted forest pests or invasive plant seeds.
-Obtain firewood near the location where you will burn it—that means the wood was cut in a nearby forest, in the same county, or preferably within 10 miles from where you'll have your fire. 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.
-Be on the lookout for invasive pests, and 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. A good resource to help in identification is:
-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.


Green Travel Trend Continues to Gain Momentum

April 24, 2012 2:40 am

TripAdvisor, one of the world's largest travel sites, recently announced the results of its eco-friendly travel survey of more than 700 U.S. travelers. The green travel trend is gaining momentum among TripAdvisor members, as 71 percent said they plan to make more eco-friendly choices in the next 12 months compared to 65 percent that did so in the past 12 months.

Going Green: Travelers' Eco-Friendly Choices
-Fifty-seven percent of travelers said they "often" make eco-friendly travel decisions, such as their choice of hotel, transportation, or food source.
-Forty-four percent of travelers said they are more environmentally conscious at home than while traveling.
-Forty-seven percent of travelers said they are equally eco-friendly at home and while traveling.

Travelers' top 3 eco-friendly practices:
1. Turned off lights when not in hotel room – 88 percent
2. Participated in hotel's linen/towel re-use program – 80 percent
3. Used recycling in the hotel – 57 percent

Green Believing: How Travelers View Hotels' Eco-Friendly Efforts
-Forty-four percent "mostly" believe a hotel’s claim to be eco-friendly, 32 percent "rarely" do and 20 percent "don't know."
-Forty-one percent would believe a hotel's claim to be eco-friendly if they experienced or witnessed green practices first hand.
-Twenty-four percent would be "green believers" if they were able to see a hotel's environmentally-friendly certification.
-Sixty percent of travelers said they rarely feel informed about whether hotels are truly eco-friendly; 13 percent said they never do.

Hotels' top 3 eco-friendly practices, according to travelers:
1. Towel/linen reuse – 58 percent
2. Adjustable thermostat in room – 37 percent
3. Water-efficient low-flow toilets and showerheads – 32 percent

Spending Green to be Green: Are Travelers Willing to Pay?
-Half of the travelers surveyed would spend more money to stay at an eco-friendly accommodation.
-Twenty-three percent would pay up to $25 additional per night to stay at such a property, while nine percent would be willing to spend $25-$50 extra.
-Seventy-five percent said the economic landscape does not affect their interest in eco-friendly travel choices.

Green Getaways: Making Eco-Tourism the Focus of the Trip
-Twenty percent of respondents said they would consider an "eco-tourism" trip, but 17 percent said they are unfamiliar with such trips.
-Four percent said they have taken an eco-tourism trip.
-Twenty-four percent have considered a "voluntourism" trip and three percent said they've taken one. Sixteen percent are unfamiliar with voluntourism trips.
-Nearly a third of travelers (30 percent) would choose a destination for a trip because it is considered eco-friendly.
-Costa Rica is the most popular destination in the world for travelers interested in an eco-friendly trip.

The top 3 perceived eco-friendly U.S. cities, according to travelers:
1. Portland, Ore.
2. San Francisco, Calif.
3. Seattle, Wash.

"Green initiatives are an increasing priority for hospitality businesses that are trying to reduce their environmental footprint," said Jenny Rushmore, director of responsible travel for TripAdvisor. "Our survey shows that TripAdvisor travelers are interested in eco-friendly practices, but hungry for more information about which green plans and policies are actually in place."

Source: TripAdvisor

Published with permission from RISMedia.


6 Tips for a Greener Lawn

April 24, 2012 2:40 am

Now that spring is in full swing, Americans across the country are taking advantage of the warmer weather and longer days by spending more time outdoors. If your lawn isn’t quite ready for neighborhood picnics and impromptu gatherings, the following tips will help you get your grass up to par.

Tip #1: Let the lawn go brown during dry spells
It's human nature to want to water a browning plant. But in the case of grass, the color change is merely an indication that the plant is entering a natural state of dormancy designed to conserve nutrients. "From an agronomic standpoint, most grasses can easily survive a month without water," says Doug Soldat, turf scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If you can't live with brown grass, the time to water is when you leave footprints in the lawn after walking on it. But don't make the mistake of giving it a light daily watering during dry spells; that will encourage a shallow root system that does more harm than good. Instead, give the lawn a nice long soak (30 minutes' worth), at which point it should be good for another month.

Tip #2: Fertilize less frequently
Fertilizer companies recommend as many as five applications a year, but many lawns can thrive with no more than two annual applications. Memorial Day and Labor Day are the ideal times to fertilize (a bit earlier in the Deep South). If you fertilize only once, do it in September using fall fertilizer. Most high-quality products contain slow-release nitrogen, which promotes growth in the spring. "Manufacturers have made it pretty mistake-proof," says Frank Rossi, a turf expert at Cornell University. "If you buy a product that says 'lawn fertilizer,' chances are it will have the right mix of ingredients."

Tip # 3: Let the grass grow a bit longer

You probably know that cutting grass too short can compromise root development, but the long-held rule that you should never remove more than one third of the blade's total height has come under scrutiny. "It was inspired by research conducted in the 1950s by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who were evaluating Kentucky bluegrass as a forage grass," says Rossi. Most domestic grasses can thrive with 50 percent or more of the blade removed, therefore, you can let the lawn grow to about 5 inches before mowing. That might result in a shaggier lawn than you're used to, but it will reduce mowing frequency by about 25 percent. Because most mower decks have notches, not inches, setting the right height often involves trial and error. Adjust the deck a notch at a time.

Tip # 4: Mulch, don't bag

As interest in eco-friendly lawns continues to grow, the lawn-mower bag is becoming less necessary. "Ninety-nine percent of the time you're better off mulching," says Rob Golembiewski, turf-grass specialist at Oregon State University. In addition to saving time, mulching (discharging finely cut clippings back onto the turf instead of bagging them) returns nutrients to the soil, reducing your lawn's fertilizer needs by roughly 33 percent. One of the few times you need to bag clippings is when the lawn has gotten very long, usually after an extended rainy spell or a long vacation. If that happens, consider composting the clippings. You should also bag clippings during a lawn-disease outbreak, in which case they might need to be taken to the landfill instead of being added to your compost pile.

Tip #5: Live with certain weeds and pests
You might not love the look of dandelions, but they don't actually harm the lawn, and their penetrating taproots might even improve the soil structure. But you should probably cut off the heads before they go to seed. Clover, which takes nitrogen from the air and feeds it to the soil, also has benefits. Things such as moss and creeping Charlie should be left alone because they thrive in moist, shady areas where grass is unlikely to grow anyway. Other lawn problems are worth trying to eliminate. Crabgrass, for example, usually dies off at the first frost, promoting soil erosion. You might try corn-gluten meal, an organic alternative to chemical herbicides. Grubs, small beetle larvae that live in the soil and feed on grass roots, can devastate a lawn, so it's worth consulting with a professional about preventive measures, especially if you've had problems in the past. And remember that thick turf is always the best defense against lawn problems, so seed bare spots to help build up turf.

Tip #6: Give low-maintenance grasses a look
Instead of purchasing whatever seed mix is on sale, consider investing in one of the newer slow-growth, drought-resistant species. Fine fescues, including creeping red, chewings, and hard, all qualify as low- maintenance. But fine fescues don't tolerate traffic well, so if your lawn doubles as a Wiffle Ball field, consider tall fescue. It does better underfoot but is susceptible to damage from ice cover. Just remember that slow-growth fescues will take a bit longer to get established, so you'll need some patience. You'll also find plenty of shade-resistant options, though trying to establish turf under the thick foliage of a maple or other shade tree can be a waste of time.

For more information, visit

Published with permission from RISMedia.


New Timelines for Short Sales to Help Add Transparency, Expedite Decisions

April 23, 2012 2:38 am

In an effort to make the short sale process more transparent, Freddie Mac is updating its timelines and also requiring servicers to provide weekly updates when decisions take more than 30 days after the receipt of a complete application for a short sale under the Obama Administration's Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative (HAFA) initiative or Freddie Mac's traditional requirements. All decisions must be made within 60-days. 

This announcement marks the newest part of the Servicing Alignment Initiative (SAI) Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae launched in 2011 at the direction of their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, to set consistent servicing and delinquency management requirements. Last year Freddie Mac completed 45,623 short sales, a 140 percent increase since the housing crisis began. 

Details of the program include:
• Freddie Mac's new short sale timelines require servicers to make a decision within 30 days of receiving either 1) an offer on a property under Freddie Mac's traditional short sale program or 2) a completed Borrower Response Package (BRP) requesting consideration for a short sale under HAFA or Freddie Mac's traditional short sale program. (BRPs are standardized assistance applications developed as part of the Servicing Alignment Initiative.)
• If more than 30 days are needed, borrowers must receive weekly status updates and a decision no later than 60 days from the date the complete BRP is received. This will help servicers who may need more time to obtain a broker price opinion or a private mortgage insurer's approval on a BRP or property offer.
• In the event a servicer makes a counteroffer, the borrower is expected to respond within five business days. The servicer must then respond within 10 business days of receiving the borrower's response.
• Freddie Mac will use the new timelines to evaluate servicer compliance with the SAI and its own servicing requirements.
• Freddie Mac completed 45,623 short sales in 2011, a 140 percent increase since 2009. Overall, Freddie Mac has also helped more than 615,000 distressed borrowers avoid foreclosure since the housing crisis began.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Fixed Mortgage Rates Edge Slightly Higher

April 23, 2012 2:38 am

Last week, Freddie Mac released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates holding relatively stable this week amid signs that inflation remains in check with the 30-year fixed up slightly at 3.90 percent and 15-year fixed at 3.13 percent. Meanwhile, the average 5-year ARM hit a new all-time low of 2.78 percent, from its previously low of 2.80 percent set the first week of February, 2012. 

Details include:
• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.90 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending April 19, 2012, up from last week when it averaged 3.88 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.80 percent.
• 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.13 percent with an average 0.7 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.11 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 4.02 percent.
• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.78 percent this week, with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.85 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.61 percent.
• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.81 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.80 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.16 percent.
According to Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist for Freddie Mac, "Fixed mortgage rates held relatively stable this week amid signs that inflation remains in check. Industrial production was flat in March, a reading below the market consensus forecast. Meanwhile, both headline inflation gauges (the consumer and producer price indexes) for March were in line with market expectations."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Leading Economic Index for U.S. Increases

April 23, 2012 2:38 am

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index for the U.S. increased 0.3 percent in March to 95.7 (2004 = 100), following a 0.7 percent increase in February, and a 0.2 percent increase in January.
Says Ataman Ozyildirim, economist at The Conference Board: "The LEI increased for the sixth consecutive month, pointing to a more positive outlook despite subdued consumer expectations and weakness in manufacturing new orders. Moreover, the six-month growth rate of the LEI continues to improve. The CEI, a measure of current economic conditions, has also increased in five of the last six months, with broad based gains in all components." 

Says Ken Goldstein, economist at The Conference Board: "Despite relatively weak data on jobs, home building and output in the past month or two, the indicators signal continued economic momentum. We expect a gradual improvement in growth past the summer months." 

The Conference Board Coincident Economic Index® (CEI) for the U.S. increased 0.2 percent in March to 104.2 (2004 = 100), following a 0.2 percent increase in February, and a 0.1 percent increase in January.
The Conference Board Lagging Economic Index® (LAG) increased 0.3 percent in March to 114.4 (2004 = 100), following a 0.1 percent increase in February, and a 0.6 percent increase in January.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Stay Safe at the ATM

April 20, 2012 2:34 am

A quick trip to the ATM has become a routine part of the average American’s daily activities. However, the American Bankers Association reminds ATM users to put safety first in order to avoid becoming the victim of a crime.

To ensure customer safety at ATMs, most banks place ATMs in areas that are visible by passers-by, trimming landscape to prevent potential criminals from hiding, and installing or upgrading lighting that is bright enough for use at night. Some banks have also installed cameras, rear-view mirrors, panic buttons and special signs. And most banks limit the amount of cash that can be withdrawn on a daily basis.

According to the ABA, bank customers should always use common sense when using an ATM. These tips are a start, but the best advice is simply not to use an ATM if you feel at all uncomfortable doing so. ATMs provide convenience, buy they haven't replaced the bank teller. If you prefer, conduct your business in the bank lobby.
  • Be aware of your surroundings, particularly at night. If you observe or sense suspicious persons or circumstances, do not use the machine at that time.
  • Have your ATM card ready and in your hand as you approach the ATM. Don't wait to get to the ATM and then take your card out of your wallet or purse.
  • Be careful that no one can see you enter your PIN at the ATM. Use your body to "shield" the ATM keyboard as you enter your PIN into the ATM.
  • To keep your account information confidential, always take your receipts or transaction records with you.
  • Do not count or visually display any money you received from the ATM. Immediately put your money into your pocket or purse and count it later.
  • If you are using a drive-up ATM, be sure passenger windows are rolled up and all doors are locked. If you leave your car and walk to the ATM, lock your car.
When using an ATM at night:
  • Park close to the ATM in a well-lighted area.
  • Take another person with you, if at all possible.
  • If the lights at the ATM are not working, don't use it.
  • If shrubbery has overgrown or a tree blocks the view, select another ATM and notify your bank.
Source: ABA Education Foundation

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Put Painting Your Home at the Top of Your Spring To-Do List

April 20, 2012 2:34 am

As the springtime weather shifts from messy to mild, every homeowner's attention turns to the out of doors. It's time to clean things up, tend to the garden, and make needed repairs to both the home and its surroundings. Where to start? Assuming that your exterior paint is failing, it's best to focus on that first, says Debbie Zimmer, director of Communications and Alliances for the Paint Quality Institute.

There are plenty of good reasons to start spring chores with exterior painting. First, spring is a very comfortable time to do outdoor painting. Second, it's smart to paint before putting down mulch, which along with your plants, will just get trampled if you paint later on. Third, why not get your painting done before more pleasant distractions like gardening, sports, and barbecues begin?

If your house paint is near the end of its life expectancy, you're taking a chance by postponing repainting. It doesn't take long for exposed wood to begin to rot, and other types of exteriors also suffer when the paint wears off. Wait too long and you may have to make repairs before starting to paint.

Another reason to get to your painting first: Exterior latex paint forms the most durable, protective finish when the weather is mild. It's always best to do exterior painting when the temperature is above 50 degrees F., but not too hot. Very hot days can cause the paint to dry too quickly and impair good paint film formation. By painting in moderate weather, you'll likely get a longer-lasting paint job.

Zimmer recommends hiring a professional painter who knows the best times to paint and what types of weather conditions to avoid. A professional painting contractor also has the industry knowledge to know how to prep the work surface properly and is educated on the type of products to use. Relying on an educated, professional painting contractor helps eliminate surprises and ensures you have a finished product you can be proud of.

Once you've finished your exterior painting project, you can turn your attention to the other things on your to-do list. What's more, you'll have peace of mind knowing that you've "invested" in your biggest investment – your home.


Published with permission from RISMedia.