RE/MAX 440
Maureen Fitzgerald
731 W Skippack Pike
Blue Bell  PA 19422
 Phone: 215-643-3200 1824
Office Phone: 215-643-3200
Cell: 215-530-6438
Fax: 267-354-6880 
mfitzgerald@remaxcentralinc.com
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Maureen Fitzgerald

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How to Plan Your Outdoor Living Space

November 16, 2016 1:57 am

(Family Features)-- Nothing makes your home feel more expansive than functional outdoor spaces. Whether you're planning a deck, an outdoor kitchen or a poolside patio, read on for quick tips to make creating your outdoor oasis exciting and easy:

Get digitally inspired
The Internet is a great place to get your creative juices flowing. There are countless online resources to help homeowners create and plan their ideal outdoor living space. A great starting point is perusing the outdoor living projects posted on social media channels, such as Houzz and Pinterest. For more inspirational images and valuable information, check out the websites of home and garden magazines, contractors and decking manufacturers.

Dive into design
Designing a deck starts with the same questions as planning interior rooms, such as whether it will be used for relaxing, grilling or socializing. Determine how to incorporate those activities into your space by exploring the possibilities with online apps. Trex offers several ready-to-build Deck Design Plans representing today’s most popular and versatile designs. Once a user selects a design, the tool provides the details of the deck’s dimensions and materials needed, as well as an overview of the design’s benefits so that homeowners can be assured they are selecting the ideal layout for their planned outdoor living activities.

Decide on details
When planning, have fun exploring the many design elements that are available for customizing your deck. You’ll need to decide early on if you want to incorporate features like built-in seating, planters and storage, as well as add-ons such as a pergola or outdoor lighting, which can add comfort, character and convenience to your outdoor living space.

Incorporate railing
As one of the most visible parts of the deck, railing can provide design inspiration and should be considered from the outset. Available in a wide array of styles, shapes and materials, you can tailor your railing to personalize and frame your outdoor space.  

Understand costs and value
To ensure your dream deck remains within reach, keep costs in mind. Several factors will affect the price, including the size and shape, along with any extras you incorporate. When evaluating expenses, think beyond the initial material and labor costs and peer into the future. With wood decks, the costs of sanding, staining and painting add up over time. Over the life of a composite deck, the reduced maintenance costs of simple soap and water cleanings add up to a greater return on investment – not to mention the value of all the time spent enjoying the deck rather than maintaining it.

Source: trex.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tips for Buying a New Furnace

November 16, 2016 1:57 am

Whether you're snagging a new furnace for your just-purchased home, or replacing your old clunker with an updated option, below are top tips for those looking into a new furnace for their home

Size matters – One of the most important factors when buying a furnace is to have a professional installer examine the size of the house and then determine the size of the furnace necessary for the space. A furnace that is too large leaves gaps in temperature as it turns on until it overwhelms the thermostat. The house ends up cooling down until the next cycle and creates an inconsistent temperature. A furnace that is the right size for the space, however, will be able to better regulate a constant temperature.

Fewer emissions – Being energy and environmentally conscious does not have to stop at the furnace. With Napoleon’s HYBRID 150, the fuel comes from three different sources – wood, oil or electric. This furnace is one of the cleanest and most efficient combination solid fuel-burning furnaces on the market today. The furnace switches from wood to oil or electric automatically and if the furnace runs out of wood a second thermostat will keep the house nice and toasty even if you are not at home.

Don’t buy on price alone – Always be sure to ask a professional installer, contractor or reputable salesperson about annual operating costs for whatever furnaces you may be looking at. While there are a variety of factors to consider, price should not necessarily be number one. Efficiencies, however, can vary drastically depending on price, which means that if you pay more up front now, you’ll still enjoy lower heating bills 10 or 15 years later.

Get the right documentation – Any reputable installer or manufacturer will be sure to not only include the purchase agreement and warranty information but also explain exactly what you are getting. If you feel confused or unsure about anything don’t be afraid to ask.

Correct installation and maintenance – Furnace installation should be done by a trained professional as not only can it be a safety hazard but if anything is off it can severely impact your efficiency and therefore your heating bill. Regular maintenance, generally in the fall, will keep the furnace performing like it should, keeping your family warm and your wallet a little fuller.

 Source: Napoleon

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8 Tips to Protect Your Identity

November 14, 2016 1:57 am


Identity theft is more than just someone tapping into your bank account. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 17.6 million U.S. residents experienced the misuse of their personal information in 2014, up from 16.6 million victims in 2012. 
 
“Fraudsters can use your personal information to conduct a variety of illegitimate transactions, such as opening bogus accounts, filing tax returns and getting access to medical care,” says Doug Johnson, American Bankers Association’s (ABA) senior vice president of Payments and Cybersecurity Policy. “As a result, consumers are urged to safeguard their personal information before it gets into the wrong hands.”

ABA offers the following tips to help consumers protect themselves from becoming a victim of identity theft:

Don’t share your secrets. Don’t provide your Social Security number or account information to anyone who contacts you online or over the phone. Protect your PINs and passwords and do not share them with anyone. Use a combination of letters and numbers for your passwords and change them periodically. Do not reveal sensitive or personal information on social networking sites.

Shred sensitive papers. Shred receipts, banks statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.

Keep an eye out for missing mail. Fraudsters look for monthly bank or credit card statements or other mail containing your financial information. Consider enrolling in online banking to reduce the likelihood of paper statements being stolen. Also, don’t mail bills from your own mailbox with the flag up.

Use online banking to protect yourself. Monitor your financial accounts regularly for fraudulent transactions. Sign up for text or email alerts from your bank for certain types of transactions, such as online purchases or transactions of more than $500.

Monitor your credit report. Order a free copy of your credit report every four months from one of the three credit reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com.

Protect your computer. Make sure the virus protection software on your computer is active and up to date. When conducting business online, make sure your browser’s padlock or key icon is active. Also look for an “s” after the “http” to be sure the website is secure.

Protect your mobile device. Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen. Before you donate, sell or trade your mobile device, be sure to wipe it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen. Use caution when downloading apps, as they may contain malware and avoid opening links and attachments – especially for senders you don’t know.

Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately. 

Source: American Bankers Association (ABA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Rules to Simplify Your Holiday Entertaining

November 14, 2016 1:57 am


(Family Features)—The hustle and bustle of the holiday season may feel overwhelming at times, and for hosts throwing holiday parties, sticking to formal cooking and dining traditions can be time-consuming and stressful. In the season dedicated to spending time with family and friends, experimenting with simple entertaining ideas and informal settings can allow for more time to enjoy the party with your guests.

To simplify your festive soiree, try these insider tips from Macy's Culinary Council, the national culinary authority featuring some of the nation's leading chefs from across the country.

Simple Satisfaction
Sometimes less can be more, even when trying to impress guests. Chef Nancy Silverton suggests using quality ingredients like flavorful lettuces or vegetables. There is no need to mask them with fancy sauces; the ingredients can speak for themselves. A simple drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, squeeze of lemon and some sea salt is enough to dress up a dish that guests will deem delicious.

Less of a Mess 
Complicated cooking methods that require too much cookware and gadgets can keep hosts in the kitchen instead of socializing with guests. Chef Rick Bayless says his focus is on simplicity and ease in the kitchen, such as using the least amount of pots and pans possible to accomplish the same goal. Try a one-pot dish in a slow cooker to reduce kitchen clutter and ensure easier clean-up.

Comfort Is Key
A less formal seating arrangement encourages relaxation and comfortable dining for all. When entertaining, Chef Johnny Iuzzini places chairs and stools throughout his home for guests to enjoy as they please rather than structuring how and where they sit and eat. Place appetizers on the coffee table or create a buffet-style spread on your dinner table. This informal layout allows for a laid-back atmosphere where hosts can easily mingle with guests.
 
Source: Macys
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Would You Sell Part of Your Home to Investors?

November 14, 2016 1:57 am


We bring you important points in housing each week—and this week (literally!) is no exception.

A new startup, Point (Point.com), aims to make homeowners free of debt and able to unlock the wealth in their home—but to do that, a homeowner must sell a portion of the equity in his or her home to Point’s investors.

How does it work? A homeowner provides some basic information about their home and household finances. Point instantly assigns homeowners pre-approval or denial based on the information they provide.

If pre-approved, Point provides a provisional offer based on the data provided—that offer is typically for between 5 percent and 10 percent of the home’s current value. To be eligible for Point, the owner(s) need to retain at least 20 percent of the equity in their home after Point's investment. The homeowner then completes a full application and provides documentation for the Point underwriting team. 

Within approximately a week, Point will schedule a home valuation visit, which the homeowner covers— generally between $500 and $700. Once the valuation is complete, Point will share the appraiser's report with the homeowner.

If the valuation is deemed acceptable by the homeowner, Point will finalize the offer following the appraisal and receipt of all supporting application documents, and call the homeowner to meet with a notary to sign the Point Homeowner Agreement.

Point then files a Deed of Trust and Memorandum of Option on the property in the county recorder's office. Once filings have been confirmed, Point transfers the offer funds (with less than 3 percent escrow and processing fees) electronically to the homeowner’s bank account.

If the homeowner sells his or her home within the agreed-upon terms, then Point will be automatically paid from escrow. If the homeowner does not sell his or her home, he or she can buy back Point’s stake at any time during the term, at the then-current appraised property value. 

Would you sell part of your home to investors?
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Protect Your Mobile Device from Hackers

November 11, 2016 1:54 am


By now, the smartphone acts as an extension of a limb—everyone from teens to geriatrics walks around with that familiar head tilt eyes on the screen. And while technology has made everything from banking to shopping much easier, it has also made things much easier for hackers.

To battle this, the American Bankers Association (ABA) is recommending 12 tips to help consumers safeguard their data and protect their mobile devices from fraudsters.

“Mobile usage has grown tremendously in recent years and consumers are using their phones to access and transmit very sensitive information,” says Doug Johnson, ABA’s senior vice president of payments and cybersecurity policy. “It’s extremely important that consumers avoid doing their banking and shopping on unsecure networks to limit their exposure to online threats."

ABA recommends that consumers take extra precaution to protect the data on their mobile device by doing the following:

• Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen.

• Log out completely when you finish a mobile banking session.

• Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software, or malware, just like you do for your computer by installing mobile security software.

• Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.

• Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malicious software, worms, and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions.”

• Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or a social security number on your mobile device.

• Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.

• Be aware of shoulder surfers. The most basic form of information theft is observation. Be aware of your surroundings especially when you’re punching in sensitive information.

• Wipe your mobile device before you donate, sell or trade it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.

• Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you don’t know. And be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.

• Watch out for public Wi-Fi. Public connections aren't very secure, so don’t perform banking transactions on a public network. If you need to access your account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to your mobile network. 

• Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately.

Source: American Bankers Association (ABA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Heat Your Home More Efficiently

November 11, 2016 1:54 am


Cold weather months come with the added expense of heating your home. Whether you heat your space to the point you can parade around in a bathing suit or pile on sweaters and socks as your thermostat stays low, you can glean some tips for using natural gas more efficiently.

1. Seal off unused rooms by closing the registers and keeping the doors shut tightly.

2. Keep furniture away from heating registers.

3. Install a timer that kicks the heat on an hour or so before you will arrive home from work, and shuts if off when you leave.

4. Make sure a clean furnace filter is installed.

5. Wash only full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine.

6. Clean out the dryer lint trap before each load.

Source: www.MissouriGasEnergy.com
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Understanding Bankruptcy: What You Should Know

November 10, 2016 1:51 am


While most Americans hope they never need to file for bankruptcy, many don't know exactly what bankruptcy is. Bankruptcy is a proceeding in a federal court in which an insolvent debtor's assets are liquidated and the debtor is relieved of further liability.

Medical expenses continue to be the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. According to the United States Courts, bankruptcy filings fell 6.9 percent (819,159) in June 2016 compared to the number of filings in June 2015 (879,736). This number of bankruptcy filings has not been this low since December 2007.

Read on to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of filing for bankruptcy, courtesy of American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC).

Advantages
One of the most important advantages of filing for bankruptcy is that consumers can obtain a fresh financial start. If you are eligible for Chapter 7 most of your unsecured debts may be forgiven or discharged. A secured debt is one which the creditor is entitled to collect by seizing and selling certain assets if payments are missed, such as a home mortgage or car loan. You may be able to keep (that is, exempt) many of your assets, although state laws vary widely in defining which assets you may keep. Collection efforts must stop as soon as you file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.

Disadvantages
A bankruptcy can remain on your credit record for 7-10 years and can affect your future finances and ability to borrow funds. A bankruptcy may impede your chances of getting a mortgage or car loan for some time. Not all debt will be discharged. Examples of debt that cannot be discharged include child support, alimony, some student loans, divorce settlements and some income taxes. You should check with an attorney on the specific categories of debt that will be allowed for discharge.

Source: American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC)
 

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Knowing Your Role as a Financial Caregiver

November 10, 2016 1:51 am


Over 90 million Americans care for a loved one living with a disability, disease or experiencing reduced financial capability as a result of aging, according to the Caregiver Action Network. In addition to doling out love and services, these caregivers play an important role in ensuring that all finances—from routine to complex—are managed wisely, helping their loved ones maintain the best quality of life possible.

ABA Foundation, through its Safe Banking for Seniors program, offers the following tips to help individuals understand their role as financial caregivers:

Learn the rights and restrictions that apply to your role. Financial caregivers, such as those with a power of attorney, trustees, and federal benefits fiduciaries, are fiduciaries with a duty to act and make decisions on their loved one’s behalf. Learn the legal responsibilities of your assigned authority in order to better execute your role.

Manage money and other assets wisely. Financial caregivers may be in charge of daily, unexpected and future expenses their loved one may incur. Especially if the beneficiary has a fixed income or limited finances, it is extremely important that caregivers minimize unnecessary costs and budget accordingly to ensure that all money is properly allocated.

Recognize danger signs. Seniors have become major targets for financial abuse and fraud. Make sure to stay alert to signs of scams or identity theft that may put your loved one’s assets in peril.

Keep careful records. When acting as a financial agent, proper documentation is not only encouraged but required. Make sure you keep well-organized financial records, including up-to date lists of assets and debts and a streamline of all financial transactions.

Stay informed. Monitor changes in financial status of the beneficiary and take appropriate action, as needed. Also, be sure to stay up to date on changes in the laws affecting seniors. 

Seek professional advice. Consult a banker or other professional advisors when you’re not sure what to do. 

Source: American Bankers Association (ABA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Where to Live If You Want to Build Wealth

November 10, 2016 1:51 am


If you're looking to live in a wealth-building area, then results from a new Bankrate survey may be a bit of a surprise: pack your bags and move to the San Francisco Bay area.

Yep. Despite having some of the highest rents in the country, the Bay Area is the best U.S. metropolitan area for building wealth. The Bankrate survey ranked 21 large metro areas in five categories: savable income, human capital, debt burden, homeownership and access to financial services. 

The nation’s highest savable income is a big part of San Francisco’s No. 1 overall ranking. The average Bay Area resident can sock away $16,657 per year, almost twice the national average, after subtracting local expenses from incomes. While it’s a very expensive place to live, there are plenty of high-paying jobs, so residents are able to keep their non-mortgage debts low (fifth lowest among the 21 markets) and their credit scores high (second highest).

Minneapolis/St. Paul is second-best overall (aided by the lowest average unemployment rate over the past five years), Washington, D.C. is third (only San Franciscans are able to save more), St. Louis is fourth (it offers the best access to financial services) and Detroit is fifth (it has the highest homeownership rate and the lowest non-mortgage debt burden).

“Different metro areas affect households’ abilities to amass wealth in different ways,” says Bankrate.com analyst Claes Bell, CFA. “In some metro areas, like San Francisco, homeownership can be prohibitively expensive, but higher-than-average salaries can help residents stash more money away in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. On the other hand, Minneapolis-area residents don’t earn as much, but the area’s affordable housing and recovering real estate market provide opportunities to build wealth over the long term through home equity.”

Source: Bankrate
 

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