RE/MAX 440
Joanne Stahl
4550 W. Tilghman Street
Allentown  PA 18104
 Phone: 610-398-8111 1426
Office Phone: 610-398-8111
Cell: 610-392-6547
Fax: 267-354-6236 
jstahl@remaxcentralinc.com
Joanne Stahl

My Blog

5 Steps to Ensure Water Quality at Home

February 11, 2016 1:43 am

The lead contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., has brought to light possible occurrences in other areas of the country. Unsafe lead levels in tap water can be harmful, particularly to pregnant women and children. If faced with contaminated tap water, steps to reduce exposure should be taken as soon as possible. Per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

• Clean out faucet aerators by unscrewing the aerator at the tip of the faucet and removing any debris. Aerators are located at the tip of household faucets and have a screen to collect particles and sediment.

• Flush hot water tanks to remove sediments that may have been deposited into the tank.

• Clean whole-house water filtration systems by flushing the system and changing the cartridge.

• Have your water tested to be sure lead levels are below 150 parts per billion.

• Pregnant women and children under six should drink bottled water until they get results showing their water is below 150 parts per billion. After that point, they should only drink water that has been through an NSF-certified, lead removal filter.

Source: EPA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Coast to Coast: The Top Growth States and Cities

February 11, 2016 1:43 am

More Americans are calling the coasts home. Two states—one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast—ranked among the highest for new residents in the last year, based on incoming one-way U-Haul truck rentals. U-Haul migration trends don’t correlate directly to population or economic growth, but the data are a strong gauge of how well states are attracting and retaining residents.

The coastal states topping the list are North Carolina and California, with Florida, Ohio and Virginia also experiencing a flood of new residents in the past year.

Clear growth cities have also emerged in the U-Haul statistics. The top 10 are:

1. Concord, Calif.
2. Roseville-Sacramento, Calif.
3. Austin, Texas
4. Madison, Wis.
5. Chicago, Ill.
6. College Station, Texas
7. Henderson, Nev.
8. Manhattan, N.Y.
9. Manteca, Calif.
10. Missoula, Mont.

Source: U-Haul

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Most Romantic Cities in America…for Foodies

February 10, 2016 1:43 am

Love it or hate it, the appetite for a romantic dining spot will be insatiable this Valentine’s Day—and some cities heed the call better than others.

"For generations, people have celebrated love by sharing a meal at enchanting, elegant restaurants," says Caroline Potter, chief dining officer of OpenTable, which recently rounded up a list of the most romantic cities in America for dining.

"The cities on this list, from the charming coastal community that is Virginia Beach to the top dining destination of Chicago, are those in which deliciously romantic dinners are de rigueur for couples in all stages of courtship,” says Potter. 

The list was tabulated by factoring in the percentage of restaurants rated “Romantic” on OpenTable, the percentage of tables seated for two, and the percentage of people who dined out for Valentine’s Day last year in each city. The full list:

1. Virginia Beach, Va.
2. Newport, R.I.
3. Milwaukee, Wis.
4. Atlantic City, N.J.
5.  Santa Fe, N.M.
6. Birmingham, Ala.
7. Oklahoma City, Okla.
8. Omaha, Neb.
9. St. Louis, Mo.
10. Colorado Springs, Colo.
11. Baltimore, Md.
12. San Antonio, Texas
13. Annapolis, Md.
14. Madison, Wis.
15. Fort Worth, Texas
16. Greenville, S.C.
17. Memphis, Tenn.
18. Louisville, Ky.
19. Savannah, Ga.
20. Austin, Texas
21. Tulsa, Okla.
22. Greensboro, N.C.
23. Chicago, Ill.
24. Lexington, Ky.
25. Columbus, Ohio

Source: OpenTable

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Americans Expect Stable Home Prices, Higher Earnings

February 10, 2016 1:43 am

With the first month of 2016 on record, Americans are exhibiting confidence, albeit tepid, about the economy in the year ahead. According to a recently released survey by the New York Federal Reserve, the expectation for changes in home prices remained stable, while expectations surrounding earnings and spending growth have increased slightly.

Per the survey, home price change expectations in the next year hovered at 3.0 percent. Looking one year ahead, expected earnings growth rebounded to 2.1 percent, primarily driven by younger, lower-income and lower-educated workers. The expectation for household spending growth rose to 3.0 percent.

The survey also presents findings regarding credit availability, perceptions and expectations for which have trickled downward. The perceived probability of missing a minimum debt payment over the next three months decreased to 11.8 percent.

Expectations for household income growth also dipped, this time to 2.2 percent, chiefly determined by older, less-educated respondents to the survey.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Homeowners: Make Way for the Super Kitchen

February 10, 2016 1:43 am

More activities than ever take place in the kitchen—so much so that a new movement has emerged. “Super kitchens,” coined by Houzz.com and revealed in its recently released Kitchen Trends Survey, blur the lines between the heart of the home and other living spaces.

“The modern ‘super kitchen’ supports family, friends and work and does it in style,” says Nino Sitchinava, principal economist at Houzz. “Our findings show that homeowners expect kitchen renovations to go far beyond improving flow, storage or aesthetics. The ‘super kitchen’ has literally become a living room, family room and office, with finishes, layouts and decor that challenge us to define where the kitchen ends and the rest of the home begins.”

According to the survey, homeowners have adapted their kitchens to serve a multitude of needs, including:

• Dining Space (69 percent)
• Entertainment Space (49 percent)
• Space for Socializing (43 percent)
• Homework Space (25 percent)
• Space for Television Viewing (19 percent)
• Reading Space (14 percent)

To meet these needs, homeowners have adjusted the layout of their kitchens—46 percent have made the space completely open to other interior rooms, and one in five were opened to the outdoors. Thirty-five percent of homeowners renovated their kitchens into a U-shaped layout; 28 percent remodeled their kitchens into an L-shaped layout.

Homeowners have also added features traditionally reserved for living and dining rooms to their super kitchens, including:

• Dining Tables (25 percent)
• Chandeliers (23 percent)
• Televisions (14 percent)
• Desks and Workspaces (7 percent)

Why the shift to super? Aside from necessity, many homeowners report simply being unable to stand their outdated kitchen—a motivation that surpassed budget concerns. Approximately half of homeowners (52 percent) spent $25,000 or less on kitchen renovations; nearly identical percentages (31 and 30 percent, respectively) spent $25,000 to $50,000 or $50,000 or more on kitchen renovations.

Source: Houzz

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Uneasy about Retirement? Write Out Your Goals

February 9, 2016 1:40 am

Writing down information not only helps you retain it, but it also helps to set the wheels in motion—and when it comes to retirement, action can make all the difference. According to recently released research from the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute, pre-retirees with formal, written retirement plans feel more confident about their future than those without, and are twice as likely to feel prepared for retirement.

"While three-quarters of pre-retirees and retirees have some kind of financial retirement plan, our study found only 16 percent have a formal written retirement plan,” says Matthew Drinkwater, PhD., assistant vice president, LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute.  “Our research demonstrated that taking the time to create a formal written retirement plan—which involves a comprehensive discussion about goals, asset management and risk mitigation—often leads to better outcomes in retirement.”

The research, documented in a study called “The Benefits of Retirement Planning,” reveals a stark contrast between those who write out their retirement goals and those who do not, with significant implications for retirement outcomes. For example:

• Eighty percent of those with a formal written plan have estimated how many years their assets will last into retirement, nearly double of those who don’t have a formal written plan (42 percent).

• More than three-quarters of pre-retirees and retirees who have a formal written plan (78 percent) have developed a specific plan for generating income from savings; only 38 percent of those without a formal written plan have done the same.

• Pre-retirees with formal written plans are twice as likely to convert a portion of their assets into guaranteed income (22 percent vs. 11 percent). Retirees with formal written plans are three times as likely to convert a portion of their assets into guaranteed income (25 percent vs. 8 percent).

“Strikingly, most of pre-retirees and retirees we interviewed said they would not have been as financially successful without a formal written retirement plan, acknowledging their own lack of awareness and skill,” says Drinkwater. “Even the wealthier consumers said they found value in a formal plan—if only to review and vet their own ideas.”

Source: LIMRA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Ways to Take Advantage of a Seller’s Market

February 9, 2016 1:40 am

Market conditions as they stand make now the ideal time to sell your home. Even so, to sell quickly and for the best price, it’s important to position your property favorably. Some steps that can help:

1. Go beyond buyer expectations… Most house hunters expect pre-owned homes to have at least some issues. Exceed this expectation by fixing major flaws ahead of listing your home on the market.

2. …but don’t overspend. The fact is, many upgrades just don’t recoup their cost at resale. Your REALTOR® can help you determine the most worthwhile repairs for your market.

3. Draw your timeline, but remember… If there’s no turnaround pressure on the sale of your home, take some time to get your home in tip-top shape.

4. …the waiting game can backfire. It’s unwise to wait for home values to rise before listing your home for sale. With more buyers on the hunt for a home, now is prime time to sell.

5. Say no to an overinflated price. No matter how highly you perceive your home, it’s just that—a perception. The best way to price your home is with a comparative market analysis (CMA), supplied by your REALTOR®, that spells out local market values.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Everything and the Kitchen Sink: 5 Projects for DIYers

February 9, 2016 1:40 am

(BPT)—Much of the expense of a kitchen renovation comes from the labor involved—but many remodeling projects, such as backsplash installment or cabinet refurbishment, can be completed by homeowners with DIY experience. If you’re of the “can-do” variety, consider “hiring out” the following projects—to yourself!

1. DIY Backsplash –Take the guesswork out of grout with self-adhesive vinyl tiles (some even mimic the look of copper or tin) and arrange in a cohesive pattern. Draw design inspiration from sources like Pinterest, home décor magazines or your local home improvement retailer.

2. DIY Cabinetry – There’s no way around it: replacing cabinetry is expensive. If you’re handy with tools, refurbish the ones already in your kitchen with new doors or re-facing material, or new hardware, from your local home improvement retailer.

3. DIY Countertops – Replacing your countertop is also a costly undertaking. Go for laminate, again from your local home improvement retailer, for a fraction of the price—many come in finishes similar to concrete, granite or marble, with little discernible difference from the real alternative.

4. DIY Sink – Mounting a sink may seem daunting, but many products on the market today make it possible for homeowners to handle the project on their own. Look for a top-mount model with pre-attached clips, which can simply be dropped into place from above.

5. DIY Storage – You don’t have to customize your cabinets to maximize storage inside them. Purchase off-the-shelf organizers, such as pullouts and rollouts, turntables, under-shelf baskets and gravity-feed can racks to get the same effect for less.

Source: FrankeUSA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tax Time: 10 Tips for Hiring a CPA

February 8, 2016 1:37 am

Tax season’s here, and like many taxpayers, you may be considering hiring a tax preparer, or a certified public accountant (CPA), for filing services. As with many professions, it pays to do your homework before hiring.

“It’s important to thoroughly vet the person you select to prepare your taxes,” says Edward Karl, American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). “Your tax preparer will be handling critical financial and personal information for you. Be wary about who you hire.”

Karl recommends the following tips when choosing a preparer:

1. Get referrals. Ask relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers or others you trust in your community for referrals. Referrals are one of the best ways to locate a CPA.

2. Verify credentials. Many CPAs specialize in taxes, but not all tax preparers are CPAs.  Stringent state licensing rules—including education, examination and experience requirements—distinguish CPAs from other tax preparers. Confirm that the CPA is currently licensed. Most state boards of accountancy have websites that allow consumers to check the status of an individual’s license. 

3. Check for consumer complaints. Have complaints been filed against the tax preparer?  Have they been resolved to the consumer’s satisfaction? Have any lawsuits been filed?

4. Interview potential tax preparers. Meet with the tax preparer. What’s their area of expertise? Find out whether the preparer has other clients with your type of tax situation, how long they’ve been in business and whether they will be there year-round to serve not only your tax filing requirements, but also to help with future tax, college, retirement and business planning needs.

5. Ask how they bill. They may not be able to tell you exactly how much it will cost to prepare your tax return, but they should be willing to explain the basis of their fee structure. Is it hourly or a flat rate? Can they provide you with an estimate?

6. Question them about how they work. Will the tax practitioner prepare your return or will others prepare it? If others prepare it, will the practitioner review it and sign it? Do they use only internal staff or do they outsource work? Will they be available to respond to questions about the return from IRS or state officials?

7. Inquire about information security processes. How do they protect their clients’ personal and financial information? How many people will see your information? Is data encrypted? How do they protect against computer network breaches?  

8. Do your styles match? Ask about weekend or evening hours, how soon telephone calls are returned, how they use technology and what the timetable is for completing the return.

9. Confirm they have an IRS PTIN. All paid tax return preparers are required by law to have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and to include it and their signature on the returns they prepare for clients. The PTIN number is renewed each year.  Confirm that they have a PTIN by visiting the IRS website.

10. Watch for red flags. If the preparer says they will prepare an original tax return (not an amended return) for a percentage of the refund, commonly referred to as a contingent fee, walk away. Walk away, too, if the tax preparer won’t provide information about their fee or how they charge. Don’t hire a preparer who promises something without seeing your prior year’s return, who suggests taking a deduction or credit that makes you uncomfortable, who asks you to sign an incomplete or blank return, or who wants your refund to be deposited into their bank account instead of yours.

Source: AICPA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to File a Storm Damage Insurance Claim

February 8, 2016 1:37 am

Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies generally offer some coverage for damages incurred as a result of a storm. The key to receiving those benefits in a timely manner is to contact your insurance professional as soon as possible following the incident, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

When filing an insurance claim, the insurance company will ask you to complete a “proof of claim” form. In general, the claim should be filed within 60 days—this includes estimates, engineering reports and other documents to support your claim. In most cases, the insurance company will then send an adjuster to your home to assess the damage.

To file your claim, prepare a list of damaged items. Consider photographing or videotaping the extent of the damage, if it is safe to do so. Save receipts for what you spend on temporary repairs; the insurance company will provide reimbursement for these expenditures. Document everything.

If the damage to your home is so severe you need to relocate, notify your insurance company—standard homeowners and renters insurance policies pay for additional living expenses (ALE) if your home or apartment is uninhabitable.

Keep in mind that if you have a mortgage, your homeowners insurance may name both you and your mortgage lender on the settlement check. Even though your name is on the check, your lender likely will hold some or all of the insurance proceeds in an escrow account, to be released when it is time to pay the contractor.

Remember, also, that flood damage is not covered under standard homeowner and renters policies, and must be purchased separately through the National Flood Insurance Program or a private insurer. To file a flood insurance claim, start by filling out a Notice of Loss form (Form 086-0-11). These can be picked up at your local FEMA assistance center, if needed. You must also complete, sign and submit a Proof of Loss form (Form 086-0-9) within 60 days of the flood.

As with the standard claims filing process, take photographs of any damaged or destroyed items before removing them from your home, beginning a dry-out or making repairs. Separate damaged from undamaged property and compile a written inventory. This list should include both damaged and destroyed property, as well as the approximate monetary value of each. Be sure to keep accurate records, including receipts and bills, to help the adjuster prepare a loss estimate.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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