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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

Outdoor Renovations Top To-Do List for Homeowners

April 11, 2016 2:15 am

Break out those hammers, folks! Millions of homeowners are planning to renovate their homes in the next year—36 million, to be exact, according to a recent Bankrate.com survey. The majority of renovations will take place outside of the home, the survey found, including improvements to:

• Driveways
• Decks
• Fencing
• Landscaping
• Patios
• Pools
• Roofing
• Siding

“With more homeowners deciding to make upgrades to their homes this year, it's a sure sign that they're generally feeling more secure about the economy and in the housing market, as well,” says Mike Cetera, Bankrate.com's personal loans and credit analyst.

Millennial homeowners are more likely than others to renovate in the next year, according to the survey—and interestingly, homeowners with lower incomes are just as likely to renovate in the next year as those more flexible budgets.

For homeowners planning to finance a renovation, Cetera recommends considering a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). These charge lower interest rates than personal loans, but do require the home as collateral. Cetera also suggests applying for a zero-percent balance transfer credit card, if the homeowner exhibits creditworthiness. 

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Dirt on Cleaning: Chores Shared in Many Households

April 11, 2016 2:15 am

Housework is one of the many responsibilities that come with homeownership—and until recently, women were believed to take on the lion’s share.

“The perception that home care is only women’s work is inaccurate,” says Sarah Peters, global business partner with Nielsen, which recently released results from its Global Homecare Survey that deflate the widely-held notion.

Forty-five percent of respondents to the survey reported men and women either divide chores, or men perform them solo.

Thirty-one percent of respondents reported cleaning and doing laundry daily. One of those tasks, however, falls on women’s shoulders more often than men’s. Forty-four percent of respondents to the survey reported women doing the majority of the cleaning; 28 percent reported sharing the responsibility.

The survey also explored the motivators behind purchases related to housework, revealing a notable trend: environmentally-friendly products matter. A significant portion of respondents to the survey reported a preference for cleaning products that are organic and/or all-natural, with sustainable packaging and high-efficiency capabilities that consume less resources.

Source: Nielsen

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Quick Ways to De-Stress

April 8, 2016 2:09 am

Too many of us put relaxation on hold, despite knowing stress management is crucial for good health. Would you take the time to de-stress more often if there were quick ways to do so? Personal trainers and life coaches suggest seven ways worth considering:
 
1. Keep a Journal –Writing is ideal for mental clarity because it makes you think out issues and reflect on what’s happening in your life. Writing in a daily journal for 10 minutes each evening can relax you, and even help you sleep better.
 
2. Go to the Movies by Yourself – If you can manage it, think about it: it gets you away from everything and everyone, you’re not allowed to talk, and you have to silence your cell phone. Perfect.
 
3. Go for a Walk – Even a short walk around your home or office can help put the world in perspective. Walk at a moderate pace and do your best to observe and appreciate the sights and sounds along the way.
 
4. Take a Breath – Three minutes of slow, deep breathing can do wonders for clearing your mind, improving your focus and easing your daily stress.
 
5. Do Something You Like – Take a warm bath or a 20-minute power nap. Phone a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Treat yourself to your favorite snack (especially if it’s dark chocolate.) Be kind to your body just for a little bit and feel the difference in your stress level.
 
6. Listen to Music – Listening to soothing music, even for 10 or 15 minutes, slows your breathing and heart rate, lowers blood pressure and relaxes tense muscles.
 
7. Create a Relaxation Space – Even a designated chair in your office can be your go-to space. Keep some magazines, crossword puzzles or a book of poems nearby, but leave your phone behind and don’t answer it while you are in your space.

Have you done any of the above to combat stress? What other ways do you unwind?

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Going Solar? Resources for Homeowners

April 8, 2016 2:09 am

A growing number of homeowners are powering their homes with solar energy—in fact, rooftop solar power grew over 60 percent in the last year. Considering solar for your home? Consult these resources from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC):

Be Solar Smart Checklist
www.IRECUSA.org/consumer/checklist.pdf

The IREC’s Be Solar Smart Checklist outlines questions consumers should ask themselves and other parties involved in the process in order to assure a fair deal and safe installation.

Clean Energy Consumer Bill of Rights
www.IRECUSA.org/consumer/bill-of-rights.pdf

The IREC’s Clean Energy Consumer Bill of Rights lays out the standards consumers should expect from parties involved in the process. It addresses issues such as advertising, contractual transparency, privacy, safety, warranties, and more.

Resources are available from other organizations in the industry, as well. This information, found at www.IREACUSA.org/consumer-protection/consumer-resources/, includes:

• Residential Consumer Guide to Solar Power (Solar Energy Industries Association)

• “When Going Solar, Should You Lease or Buy? The Pros, Cons and Costs of Installing a Solar Photovoltaic System” (Consumer Reports)

• A Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Financing: Leases, Loans and PPAs (Clean Energy States Alliance and the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative)

• Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) (North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center)

• North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP)

“After a home, a solar system could be one of the biggest investments a consumer makes,” says Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Energy and Environment, Consumer Reports. “It's important for consumers to have independent information to guide them through the process to make sure reality meets their expectations and benefits of installing solar are realized.”

Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. (IREC)

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Prepping Your Garden in Spring for Summer Bounty – Pt. 1

April 8, 2016 2:09 am

Spring is here, and thousands of homeowners across the country are eyeballing their starter plants, heading to garden centers and plotting out where and what they'll be planting this year.

If you're a little late in launching plans for a home garden, experts say the coming weeks are the best time to get started. The good news is, with little effort and the right equipment, you can enjoy its beauty and harvest, whether in a garden compact enough for a corner of a deck or patio, or one expansive enough to grow food that sustains your family virtually year-round.

According to Brian Bath of “Modern Farmer” (modernfarmer.com), now’s the time to take your gas-powered equipment in for a seasonal tune-up and cleaning. While your power equipment is getting primed for work, Barth says to dig into a thorough check of your hand and digging tools:

• Sand off any rust using steel wool, use a sharpening stone to restore a sharp edge to the blades, and coat the blades and moving parts with a light penetrating oil. (A local hardware store will often offer these services if you’re not up for the task, Barth says.)

• Break the handle on a shovel or digging fork last year? If it’s a good quality tool, it’s worth buying a new handle and replacing it, rather than tossing the whole thing in a landfill. Some gardeners go so far as to sharpen the digging blade of their shovels with a coarse file each year, but at the very least, wash off any accumulated dirt, dry down the blade, and spray it with penetrating oil to ward off rust.

In our next segment, we'll dig into prepping your vegetable garden!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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More Households Pouring Savings into Rainy Day Funds

April 7, 2016 2:03 am

More households are pouring savings back into rainy day funds.

According to a recently released survey by NeighborWorks America, a non-profit community development organization, more households are setting money aside for an emergency—71 percent of Americans this year versus 63 percent last year.

Predictably, those with a higher income are much more prepared to reserve emergency funds, a survey finding that underscores the fragile financial circumstances many still face. Specifically, 91 percent of Americans surveyed with an annual income above $100,000 have emergency savings, compared to 63 percent with an annual income below $40,000 and 39 percent with an annual income of less than $20,000.

The survey also highlights a significant gap in emergency savings capacity between homeowners and renters. Eighty-four percent of homeowners surveyed with an annual income between $40,000 and $59,000 have saved money in case of emergency; 58 percent of renters in the same income range have done the same.

A similar divergence also occurs at the higher income level: 97 percent of homeowners with an annual income of $100,000 or more report having emergency savings, compared to 67 percent of renters in the same income range.

Source: NeighborWorks America

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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That Lawn's a Looker! 5 Fertilizing Tips

April 7, 2016 2:03 am

(Family Features)—Behind every lush lawn is a power-packed fertilizer. Fertilizer supports healthy growth by heightening grass density, lowering ambient temperature and building resistance to the elements, pests and weeds, according to the experts at TruGreen. It also helps deepen pigment, resulting in a vibrant green lawn. We all want that!

Select and apply fertilizer specific to your lawn with these tips:

1. Identify the Grass – The grass will help determine which type of fertilizer to apply. Warm-season grass turns brown after the first frost; cool-season grass stays green nearly all year in cool and transitional zones, but will turn brown in summer in warm-season zones.

Southern states tend to support warm-season grasses, such as Bermudagrass or Zoysiagrass, while northern states house cool-season grasses, like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass or tall fescue. Across the central states are large sections of transitional areas, which are home to both warm- and cool-season grasses.

2. Determine Soil Type and Drainage – Your fertilizer selection will also depend on the soil type of your lawn. Sandy soil drains well, giving grass plenty of access to oxygen; however, nutrients can leach out with draining water. Clays and other poor-draining soils can be fertile, but can still result in unhealthy grass.

3. Learn the Number System – Bags of lawn fertilizer feature three numbers, such as 28-3-5 or 20-5-10, which represent the percentages of nutrients. The first number is nitrogen (N), which helps grass grow and become greener. The second number is phosphorus (P), which stimulates root and seedling development. The third is potassium (K), which promotes tolerance against disease and drought.

Avoid fertilizers containing high amounts of phosphorus, unless establishing new turf by seed, or if a deficiency indicates otherwise.

4. Know Your Options – Most in-store fertilizers come in two categories: quick-release and slow-release. Quick-release granules send nutrients to the soil fast, which helps the lawn green up in a shorter time span, but also increases the risk of damage and disease if the product is over-applied. Slow-release fertilizers may not provide immediate results, but they will require less frequent applications.

5. Set a Schedule – Striking the proper balance when fertilizing is essential. Too much can leave fertilizer burn, and too little can leave your yard prone to weeds. Be sure to follow the directions on the bag, or, consider hiring an expert to assess your lawn—he or she can pinpoint the ideal times to fertilize.

Source: TruGreen

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tax Season: Claiming the Home Office Deduction

April 7, 2016 2:03 am

Many homeowners are eligible to claim a deduction for business use of their home—commonly known as the home office deduction—when filing their taxes. Eligible taxpayers have the option to choose the simplified method when claiming the deduction, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The simplified method is designed to reduce the burden of recordkeeping, as well as paperwork, for small businesses. This optional deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on $5 a square foot for up to 300 square feet.

By selecting the simplified method, home-based businesses need only complete a short worksheet in the tax instructions and enter the result on their tax return. Normally, home-based businesses are required to fill out a 43-line form (Form 8829), calculating allocated expenses, depreciation and carryovers of unused deductions.

Self-employed individuals choosing the simplified method claim the home office deduction on Schedule C, Line 30; farmers claim it on Schedule F, Line 32; and eligible employees claim it on Schedule A, Line 21.

When choosing the simplified method, home-based businesses cannot depreciate the portion of their home used in a trade or business, but they can claim allowable mortgage interest, real estate taxes and casualty losses on the home as itemized deductions on Schedule A. These deductions need not be allocated between personal and business use, as is required under the regular method.

Business expenses unrelated to the home, such as advertising, supplies and wages paid to employees, are still fully deductible. Long-standing restrictions on the home office deduction, such as the requirement that a home office be used regularly and exclusively for business and the limit tied to the income derived from the business, still apply under the simplified method.

Further details on the home office deduction and the simplified method can be found in Publication 587 on IRS.gov.

Source: IRS.gov

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Tax Concerns to Be Aware of This Year

April 6, 2016 2:03 am

We’re in the throes of tax season, and this year, three distinct tax-related factors have presented challenges for many: the sharing economy, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and anti-fraud measures, reports H&R Block.

With more taxpayers relying on the sharing economy, their tax obligations and benefits have become more complex. Taxpayers who gig are generally subject to a 15.3 percent self-employment tax and must file quarterly estimated payments, unless they have sufficient tax withheld from another job where they earn wages.

The increased tax complexity also means new tax benefits in the form of deductible expenses, which could include health insurance premiums, retirement plan contributions, one-half of self employment taxes, the cost of advertising, licensing, insurance, repairs and supplies.

"Keeping a business-only bank account usually makes it easier to keep good records and file accurate tax returns, but in the sharing economy, it isn't always possible to keep separate business and personal accounts,” explains Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block. “For example, a driver will probably use the same car for both business and personal use. This makes good record-keeping all the more important, and, unfortunately, the tax-filing process all the more complicated for those participating in the sharing economy. We have seen clients who rent out their home through a website who now are accidental landlords and are seeing their tax situation change dramatically.”

The ACA is also a point of confusion for taxpayers, who are concerned both about avoiding the penalty—which has more than doubled since last year—or how to qualify for an exemption if they were without insurance.

Like last year, taxpayers enrolled in marketplace insurance need to use information on the 1095-A to reconcile their advance premium tax credit and file a complete tax return. More than one million taxpayers put their tax credit at risk by either not filing or reconciling the credit appropriately last tax season.

“Even those who have received the Advance Premium Tax Credit for a second year are still asking questions about how it impacts their tax returns,” Pickering says. “Add in additional forms for millions more taxpayers and we are hearing more questions than in the past regarding ACA.”

Additionally, taxpayers have expressed confusion over anti-fraud efforts, albeit tempered by understanding. Some states have increased their review processes to validate returns, and some have delayed distributing refunds until March 1 or later. Taxpayers may have to verify their return online or by submitting documentation before they can receive their refund. States are issuing checks in lieu of direct depositing the refund into bank accounts in some circumstances.

“Tax identity theft can take victims several months or even years to resolve,” Pickering says. “Taxpayers understand the importance of reversing the growth of tax identity theft and a majority are willing to wait a little longer for their refund if it helps combat tax fraud.”

Source: H&R Block

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Has the 'ecobee' Found a Fertile Flower in Amazon's Echo?

April 6, 2016 2:03 am

Once in a while, we hear about a logical pairing of home efficiency systems that can’t 'bee' ignored. A recent announcement from the manufacturers of the innovative HVAC controller ecobee heralded an exciting new relationship—with Amazon and its Echo device.

The ecobee3 smarter Wi-Fi thermostat with room sensors is the first thermostat to be directly compatible with Amazon Echo, offering homeowners added convenience and comfort in their everyday lives through Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, Alexa.

The Toronto-based company says Alexa, the brain behind Amazon Echo, will be able to facilitate requests from across the room. For example, users can say, “Alexa, set my thermostat to 72,” or, “Alexa, increase the temperature in my house,” to control their ecobee3.

As the one of the top-selling Wi-Fi thermostats in North America, the ecobee3 is the only thermostat that uses sensors to deliver comfort in preferred rooms. And its unique design resolves what its creators say is a basic flaw in traditional thermostat design: only measuring temperature in one location, which contributes to hot and cold spots throughout the home.

The ecobee3 saves homeowners an average of 23 percent on their heating and cooling bills (based on an October 2013 analysis), and is touted to be compatible with 95 percent of residential homes in North America.

Creating further environmental benefit, the ecobee3 does not rely on batteries that must be tossed when they are exhausted. Its innovators say ecobee3 receives power through a C-wire or its Power Extender Kit (PEK).

Charlie Kindel, director of Amazon Echo and Alexa, says using only your voice to control the temperature in your house is another great way to create smarter homes. The ecobee3 is available for $249 on/at Amazon, Apple, Best Buy and Home Depot.

The kit comes with one free wireless room sensor and supports up to 32 sensors. Additional room sensors can be purchased in a package of two for $79 each.

Not an Echo user yet? The ecobee3 is also compatible with Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings and Wink. Visit ecobee.com to catch more buzz about this pairing.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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