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RE/MAX 440
Susan Langenstein
423 North Main Street
Doylestown  PA 18901
 Phone: 267-446-6201
Office Phone: 215-348-7100
Toll Free: 800-360-7100
Cell: 267-446-6201
Fax: 267-354-6816 
susanlangenstein@comcast.net
Susan Langenstein

My Blog

Do Off-season Home Projects Now, Save Later

January 16, 2015 2:42 am

Remodeling projects have peak and off-seasons – winter, for example, is prime time for heating and insulation professionals. While you may need to do a cold weather repair this season, consider taking advantage of projects normally carried out in warmer months, too. Some ideas:

Install Central Air Conditioning

According to Consumer Reports, central air conditioners are 20-40 percent more efficient than those manufactured just 10 years ago. Air conditioning is probably the last thing on your mind in winter, but now’s the perfect time to score a deal from a qualified cooling contractor. And professionals are more likely to return calls, give you estimates and complete the project on time during a slower season.

Prune Trees
Since there’s no leaves to create mess, winter is the perfect season to remove dead limbs or trim back branches. It’s also easier to gauge what needs pruning without leaves obstructing your view, and there will be less debris to pick up once you’re finished.

Replace Windows
Most modern windows can be installed at any time of year, thanks to new, water-resistant coverings like vinyl, aluminum and fiberglass. Have your window installer measure each window prior to taking out the old one so that every new window can be fitted to the frame immediately.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Note Warning Signs of Home Heating Systems

January 16, 2015 2:42 am

According to the National Fire Protection Association, half of home heating equipment fires are reported during the months of December, January and February. To mitigate your risk of home fire, the experts at American Home Shield recommend taking note of the warning signs associated with home heating systems.

What homeowners should keep an eye on:
Gas odors – If you smell gas around your heating unit or home, leave the area and call your gas company immediately.

Pilot light – Be sure your pilot light is burning a steady blue flame. If it is not, call your heating professional or local gas company.

Exhaust fan – Take a close look at your exhaust fan for any rust, damage or deterioration. If you notice any, call a qualified professional and describe what you see to determine whether a repair is needed.

Space heaters – Space heaters should be plugged directly into a wall outlet (never into an extension cord), and turned off at night. When in use, always be sure space heaters are a safe distance from curtains and other flammable items.
Homeowners should also be vigilant about maintaining their heating system.

"One of the most important things that a homeowner can do is to have their heating system inspected and serviced annually by a licensed professional," said Dave Quandt, vice president of field services for American Home Shield. "Not only can it help keep your heating unit in top condition, but it can help you avoid potentially dangerous safety issues down the road.”

Source: American Home Shield

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Break New Year's Resolutions and Stick to Basics

January 16, 2015 2:42 am

Research shows that every year, nearly half of Americans resolve to make lifestyle changes, but only 8 percent actually achieve those goals.

“Americans have been inundated with quick fixes like fad diets,” says Dr. Tony Norelli, Medical Director, Northwestern Mutual. "We don't need new ways to live healthier and happier. What's old is new again. We need to get back to the basics. We need long-term solutions, not resolutions with a deadline. Today, planning is the new plaid; the basics are the new black."

Norelli recommends focusing on these essential five lifelong solutions to live healthier and happier in 2015 and beyond:

1. Plan a check-up. When it comes to your physical health, primary prevention is key. Routine "check-ups" at a doctor's office can help keep your well-being on track – and add a year, on average, to your lifespan.

2. Consume less. Food portions in America's restaurants have doubled or tripled over the last 20 years. Many of us are members of the "clean plate club" generation, so it can seem strange to encourage yourself to stop eating when you're full. Remember, "all you can eat" is a suggestion, not a challenge.

3. Move more. An active lifestyle is an investment in your lifespan - and can be good insurance against heart disease and cancer. Can you make physical activity or sports a regular part of your day? If so, you could add years to your life.

4. Relax. Stress can help you be more productive or block you from achieving your potential. Knowing how to handle stress can make your life longer – and more enjoyable. Regular exercise is an excellent way to mitigate stress. Find something like yoga, walking, running, cycling or weight lifting, and keep doing it.

Source: Northwestern Mutual

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Have Your Home Tested for Radon

January 15, 2015 2:42 am

January is National Radon Action Month. More dangerous than carbon monoxide, radon is an invisible, odorless, natural gas that can cause health issues if exposed to high dosages. In fact, The American Lung Association, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute are in agreement that radon can cause lung cancer.

Radon gas is not isolated to certain geographical areas or home types, and homeowners are unable to see, smell or taste it. The only way to determine radon levels is to have your home tested, either with an inexpensive home test kit or with the help of a certified professional.

If radon is present in your home, contact an air quality professional to clear your home, and conduct tests annually to ensure radon does not enter your home in the future.

Source: SWAT Environmental

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Knowledge Is Power When Mortgage Shopping

January 15, 2015 2:42 am

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently reported that half of consumers do not shop around for a mortgage when purchasing a home. Informed consumers, however, are more likely to research mortgage options, especially if they are familiar with available mortgage rates.

According to CFPB Director Richard Cordray, consumers seek to understand the lending process, but are intimidated by its complexities. The report also found:
Three out of four consumers only apply with one lender or broker.
Fewer than one out of four borrowers actually end up submitting a loan application to more than one lender or broker. These consumers are not filling out applications with multiple lenders to see which one can offer them the best deal.

Most consumers get their information from lenders or brokers, who have a stake in the outcome.
Seventy percent of consumers report relying on their lender or mortgage broker ‘a lot’ to get information about mortgages. While lenders and brokers can be valuable resources, they have a stake in the selling of the mortgage, so what is best for the lender or broker is not always best for the consumer.

Borrowers who prioritize the terms of the loan over the characteristics of the lender are more likely to shop.
Among all borrowers – those who shopped and those who did not – 42 percent said having an established banking relationship with the lender is “very important.” Since most borrowers likely only have a few banking relationships, this likely inhibits shopping.
Failing to shop means money lost for consumers. Those who consider the product offerings of multiple lenders or brokers may save substantial sums. For example, interest rates can span more than half a percent for a conventional mortgage for borrowers with a good credit rating and a 20 percent down payment. For a borrower taking out a 30-year fixed-rate loan for $200,000, getting an interest rate of 4 percent instead of 4.5 percent translates into almost $60 saved per month. Over the first five years, the borrower would save about $3,500 in mortgage payments. In addition, the lower interest rate means that the borrower would pay off an additional $1,400 in principal in the first five years, building greater equity.

While many risky features of mortgages are now restricted or unavailable in the marketplace since the financial crisis, mortgages still have different terms and features. Key components include the loan term, loan type, and interest rate. Loan terms typically vary between 15 and 30 years. Loan types include Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs (VA), and conventional loans. Interest rates can be fixed or adjustable, and the rates vary across lenders, even for the same consumer and for loans with otherwise identical product features. Consumers can shop for a mortgage by researching and inquiring with multiple lenders, applying for mortgages with multiple lenders, or applying for different kinds of loans.

Source: CFPB

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Prep Your Car for Freezing Temps

January 15, 2015 2:42 am

When it comes to winter car care, many motorists think of antifreeze and batteries. When temperatures drop, vehicles need extra attention, according to the Car Care Council.

"Winter magnifies existing problems such as pings, hard starts, sluggish performance and rough idling, and very cold temperatures reduce battery power. If you haven't had your vehicle checked recently, a thorough vehicle inspection is a good idea so you can avoid the aggravation and unexpected cost of a breakdown in freezing weather,” says Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council.

Keep your vehicle maintained and operational over the winter months with these tips:

1. Keep the gas tank at least half full; this decreases the chance of moisture forming in the gas lines and possibly freezing.

2. Check the tire pressure, including the spare, as tires can lose pressure when temperatures drop. Consider special tires if snow and ice are a problem in your area.

3. Have the exhaust system checked for carbon monoxide leaks, which can be especially dangerous during cold weather driving when windows are closed.

4. Allow your car a little more time to warm up when temperatures are below freezing so that the oil in the engine and transmission circulate and get warm.

5. Change to low-viscosity oil in winter as it will flow more easily between moving parts when it is cold. Drivers in sub-zero temperatures should drop their oil weight from 10-W30 to 5-W30 as thickened oil can make it hard to start the car.

6. Consider using cold weather washer fluid and special winter windshield blades if you live in a place with especially harsh winter conditions.

7. As a precaution, motorists should be sure their vehicle is stocked with an emergency kit containing an ice scraper and snowbrush, jumper cables, flashlight, blanket, extra clothes, bottled water, dry food snacks and needed medication.

Source: Car Care Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Have You Prepared Your Power Outage Plan?

January 14, 2015 2:42 am

Did you know that power outages can occur without stormy conditions? Cold weather generally puts higher stress on the equipment used to generate and deliver electricity. With temperatures plummeting to record lows this winter, experts at Duke Energy urge homeowners to establish a power outage plan now that can be implemented if disaster strikes.
  • Take stock of your supply of flashlights, batteries, bottle water, non-perishable foods, and medicines and replenish immediately if needed.
  • Ensure a portable, battery-operated radio, TV or NOAA weather radio is readily available and operational.
  • Check on family members, friends and neighbors who have special medical needs to make sure they have necessary emergency supplies.
  • If you lose power, turn off as many appliances and electronics as possible – this will help with restoration efforts and reduce immediate demand on power lines.
  • Do not attempt to heat your home with a gas grill or by bringing your generator inside. Only operate such equipment outdoors in well-ventilated areas, and follow manufacturer instructions.
  • When power is restored, wait a few minutes before turning electrically-powered devices back on.
Source: Duke Energy

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Recoup the Most Value from These Home Improvements

January 14, 2015 2:42 am

Homeowners often consider various remodeling and replacement projects as a way to add value to their homes. According to the 2015 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report, some projects add more value and better recoup their costs than others. The report compares changes in home improvement project costs with Realtor® perceptions of what those projects contribute to a home's price at resale.

Per the report, a steel entry door replacement is expected to return the most money, with an estimated 101.8 percent of costs recouped upon resale. The steel entry door replacement is consistently the least expensive project in the annual report.

Rounding out the top projects in terms of cost recouped:
  • Manufactured stone veneer (92.2 percent)
  • Garage door replacement (88.5 percent)
  • Siding replacement with fiber cement (84.3 percent)
  • Siding replacement with vinyl (80.7 percent)
  • Wood deck addition (80.5 percent)
  • Minor kitchen remodel (79.3 percent)
  • Wood window replacement (78.8 percent)
Since 2003, replacement projects have resulted in a higher financial return than remodeling projects. However, the gap between replacement and remodeling projects became bigger this year, with both categories declining in value. The biggest contributing factor to the slip is the consistent rise in costs for these projects, with home values rising at a slower pace.

Source: National Association of Realtors®

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Catch up on Retirement Planning

January 14, 2015 2:42 am

(BPT) - If you're within 10 years of retirement and haven't done any appreciable planning, you're not alone. Nearly half of Americans age 50 and older expect to retire later than they hoped, citing financial concerns, according to a 2013 study by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. And while you may be part of that group, it's better to plan late than never.

A good benchmark on retirement readiness is the ability to replace at least 75 percent of your pre-retirement income at the age you qualify for full Social Security benefits, which is 66 or 67 for most people. Retirement income can come from a variety of sources, including Social Security, savings and a pension, if you have one.

"While people age 50 or older no longer have time on their side when it comes to retirement savings, there are strategies that can help you play catch up," says Elaine Sarsynski, executive vice president, MassMutual Retirement Services division. "Pre-retirees have some levers to pull that younger workers may not."

Make the most of your retirement planning by:

Taking stock of where you are. Meet with a financial professional who can evaluate your retirement resources and project how much income you can expect if you retire at a certain age. Many 401(k) plans offer online tools to help you determine where you stand and how likely you are to replace your income based on your current assets and saving habits.

Making the most of matching contributions. Say your employer matches contributions to your 401(k) plan up to five percent of your salary and you only contribute two percent – you're turning down free money. Make sure you save enough to at least get the full match.

Talking to your tax advisor about whether you should contribute to your 401(k) on a before- or after-tax basis. Pre-tax contributions may make it affordable to save a higher percentage of your pay by deferring some of your tax liability until retirement. After-tax contributions may reduce your tax liability in retirement.

Taking advantage of catch-up contributions.
If you're age 50 or older at the end of the calendar year, you are eligible to contribute up to an additional $6,000 to your retirement plan in 2015. That's on top of the $18,000 limit for younger employees. Matching contributions from your employer do not count toward your contribution limit.

Optimizing Social Security. You can begin taking Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. But should you?

"It depends on a lot of things - your health, medical history, current cash needs, and future financial obligations, to name a few," says Farnoosh Torabi, best-selling author and personal finance coach. "But one thing is certain: the longer you delay your application, the bigger your benefit will be."

The maximum benefit from Social Security starts at age 70. You can estimate your retirement benefit by using the Social Security Administration's Retirement Estimator at ssa.gov/estimator.

Not forgetting your pension.
If you are entitled to a pension, this is an important source of income that should factor into your retirement planning. Your pension pays you a benefit at retirement based on factors such as your years of service and salary. Your plan administrator will have specific information about your plan.

"When it comes to saving for retirement, don't let a late start dissuade you," Sarsynski says. "Becoming more financially disciplined and making the most of your resources can go a long way toward helping you retire on your own terms."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What Your Green Home Certification Really Means

January 13, 2015 1:36 am

Homes dubbed ‘green’ actually mean ‘well-built’ – no recycled countertops or bamboo carpets needed. If you’re truly seeking an environmentally-friendly experience as a homeowner, it’s important to take a comprehensive look at the performance of the home, according to the Illinois Association of Energy Raters (IAER).

Homebuyers are willing to pay more for proof of those green benefits – an average of 10 percent more, says the IAER. Green certifications earned by homebuilders incorporate checklists and testing to ensure a home will be comfortable, healthy, durable and low-cost, but certifications obtained by homeowners may mean something else entirely.

To learn the facts, consider consulting with a BPI- or RESNET-certified professional, who will test the enclosure (insulation and seal) and the HVAC system (heating, cooling and ventilation) to determine a home’s energy efficiency and pinpoint the most beneficial home improvements. This test will generally include an ENERGY STAR certification that can only be done by a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Rater.

Source: IAER

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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