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Howard C Schaeffer
howardschaeffer@remax.net
Howard C Schaeffer
4789 Route 309
Center Valley  PA 18034
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O: 610-791-4400
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F: 267-354-6233 
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Social Media Safety for Teens: 6 Tips

September 19, 2014 4:33 am

Going back to school is about more than shiny shoes and trendy notebooks. It's also about kids making new friends and adding those friends on social network sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

More than 60 percent of teens in the United States have at least one social media account, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. And while being online is a good way to keep in touch with friends, it's important for parents to be proactive about Internet safety.

Unfortunately, there are people who can use your child's personal information to steal identities, bully them or begin an inappropriate relationship. Help protect students from online dangers by following these safety tips:

1. Keep your child’s profile private so that only family and people you know see photos, important dates and other information.

2. Make sure they're not posting personal details, like phone numbers, home addresses, the name of their school or Social Security number.

3. Only allow them to publish photos and videos that don't jeopardize their safety or integrity.

4. Make sure they choose a strong password that can't be guessed, and that it gets changed every three months.

5. Never allow them to accept friend requests from people they don't know.

6. Keep an open dialogue with your children. Ask them to let you know if they've received private messages from a stranger, or from someone at school who is teasing, harassing or threatening them.

Source: USA.gov

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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How to Mix Old Treasures and New Trends at Home

September 19, 2014 4:33 am

(BPT) - It can be difficult to keep up with the latest changes in decorating styles at home, but an increasingly popular design trend may ease the burden, especially if you've kept some family treasures around. Designers are now focused on keeping those traditional accents, furniture pieces or wallpaper and blending them with clean, bright, contemporary elements.

You, too, can incorporate this style in any room of the home, allowing you to display grandmother’s mirror or repurpose aged marble countertops. Use these tips to get the most out of the old and usher in the new:

Accent with white - A great way to give an outdated room a contemporary balance is to accent with white on trim, molding, doors or decorative linens. Blending the soft wood tones of older furniture or dark wood floors with fresh white accents will make the room pop, breathing new life into a treasured heirloom piece you’ve had in your family for years. You can achieve a similar effect in your kitchen with stainless steel finishes.

Add small, vintage touches – Think of ways to repurpose older items. An old six-paned window with cracked and worn wood can become a frame for family photos. Wood from an old barn can be used for a coffee table or fireplace mantel. Mix up the chairs around your dining room table by blending both modern and contemporary styles. These small changes showcase two distinctive styles that work seamlessly together.

Incorporate focal points - If the shell of your room has a contemporary look, add a few traditional elements as conversation pieces. An antique lamp, an old trunk that becomes a side table or a church pew in an entryway can all be attention-getting additions. On the flipside, if your home features traditional wooden floors that have aged beautifully, let the floor take center stage with simple, modern decorations.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Large Lenders Expect Credit Standards to Ease in Next Three Months

September 19, 2014 4:33 am

Large lenders’ expectations that underwriting standards will ease over the next three months coincide with overall lenders’ expected pullback in the demand for single-family purchase mortgages, according to results from Fannie Mae’s third-quarter Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey. The share of lenders who expect purchase mortgage demand to go up over the next three months decreased significantly – between 26 to 33 percentage points depending on loan type – with the largest decline of 33 percentage points on GSE-eligible loans.

Among those surveyed, larger lenders continue to be more likely than their smaller counterparts to say they expect to ease their credit standards during the next three months, in particular for non-GSE-eligible and government loans, perhaps indicating an effort to boost purchase mortgage activity before the year comes to a close.

"Lenders’ diminished purchase mortgage demand outlook is broadly in line with the softened consumer housing sentiment seen in the August National Housing Survey results released last week," said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. "Historically, as lenders face a more competitive market for loan volume, it’s not uncommon to see some loosening in the lending standards; however, this time, the easing will likely be around the edges."

These latest third quarter results are largely consistent with Fannie Mae’s study released last month, titled "Impact of QM," that shows larger lenders are more likely than smaller lenders to pursue non-QM loans. "Larger lenders are expecting to tap into the non-GSE-eligible and government loan market to maintain or grow their market share and offset their anticipated slowing mortgage demand as the peak spring/summer selling seasons are coming to an end," said Duncan.

Highlights from the survey include:
  • Compared to general consumers, senior mortgage executives continue to be more optimistic about the overall economy.
  • Consumer demand reported for single-family purchase mortgages over the prior three months remain little changed from Q2 to Q3 2014.
  • Larger lenders continue to be more likely than smaller lenders to say their credit standards eased over the prior three months and that they expect standards to ease during the next three months, in particular for non-GSE eligible and government loans.
  • As in Q1 and Q2, most lending institutions surveyed in Q3 2014 reported that they expect to maintain their post mortgage origination execution strategies for the next three months.
  • As in Q1 and Q2, the majority of lenders surveyed in Q3 2014 reported that they expect to maintain their Mortgage Servicing Rights (MSR) strategies for the next three months.
Source: Fannie Mae

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Demographic Shifts Signal Need for Housing Changes

September 18, 2014 4:33 am

America’s older population is in the midst of unprecedented growth. According to a recent report by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and the AARP Foundation, the number of adults in the U.S. aged 50 and over is expected to grow to 133 million by 2030, an increase of more than 70 percent since 2000. It is more important than ever for older Americans to have access to affordable, physically accessible and well-located housing options.

Housing is critical to quality of life for people of all ages, but especially for older adults. Considering current housing costs, a third of adults 50 and over—including 37 percent of those 80 and over—pay more than 30 percent of their income for homes that may or may not fit their needs, resulting in cutbacks elsewhere, including retirement savings. Much of the nation’s inventory also lacks basic accessibility features (such as no-step entries, extra-wide doorways, and lever-style door and faucet handles), preventing older persons with disabilities from living safely and comfortably in their homes. Additionally, with a majority of older adults aging in car-dependent suburban and rural locations, transportation and pedestrian infrastructure that meets the needs of non-drivers is paramount.

“Recognizing the implications of this profound demographic shift and taking immediate steps to address these issues is vital to our national standard of living,” says Chris Herbert, acting managing director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. “While it is ultimately up to individuals and their families to plan for future housing needs, it is also incumbent upon policy makers at all levels of government to see that affordable, appropriate housing, as well as supports for long-term aging in the community, are available for older adults across the income spectrum.”

Of special concern are the younger baby boomers now in their 50s. While a majority of people over 45 would like to stay in their current residences as long as possible, estimates indicate that 70 percent of those who reach the age of 65 will eventually need some form of long-term care. In this regard, older homeowners are in a better position than older renters when they retire. The typical homeowner age 65 and over has enough wealth to cover the costs of in-home assistance for nearly nine years, or assisted living for 6 and half years. The typical renter, however, can only afford two months of these supports.

“As Americans age, the need for safe and affordable housing options becomes even more critical,” says Lisa Marsh Ryerson, President of the AARP Foundation. “High housing costs, aging homes, and costly repairs can greatly impact those with limited incomes.”

Source: AARP

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Six Homeowner Expenses Renters Must Consider

September 18, 2014 4:33 am

Transitioning from renter to homeowner means much more than simply having a place to call your own. Purchasing a home is well worth the investment, but it’s important for renters to be totally financially committed. Renters seeking to buy a home should budget not only monthly expenses, but also these overlooked costs:

Home maintenance
– Unlike renters, homeowners are responsible for upkeep, including expensive projects like replacing a roof or windows.

Utility bills
– Keep in mind that bills are generally higher than those for apartment dwellers, where some are often included in rent.

Closing costs – Closing costs can vary by state, so if you plan to relocate from a rental in one area to a home in another, research thoroughly while budgeting.

Home repairs
– Renters typically don’t have to save for emergency repairs. As a homeowner, make sure you have funds set aside for unexpected issues.

Furniture
– Furnishing an apartment is normally cheaper than furnishing several rooms in a home.

Seasonal projects – Many first-time homeowners fail to factor in seasonal projects, such as spring and summer landscaping and holiday decorating.

Source: Zillow

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Three Common Credit Questions Answered

September 18, 2014 4:33 am

School is back in session, but many people still have questions about a subject that is rarely taught in the classroom: their credit. Here, credit reporting bureau Experian explains the truth behind these common credit questions.

What is my credit report used for?

Credit reports often are referenced to help lenders quickly and objectively decide whether to grant consumers credit and under what terms. Information from credit reports can be used for select employment, rental housing, licensing, insurance and other specific business relationship decisions. Consumers also can check their credit reports for signs of identity theft or use them to better understand what influences credit so they can make more informed financial decisions.

Typical credit reports include the following main categories of information:
  • Identification: the consumer's name, current and previous addresses, telephone number, reported variations of his or her Social Security number, date of birth, employer and spouse's name
  • Account history: specific information about each account, such as date opened, credit limit or loan amount, balance, monthly payment, payment status and payment history
  • Public records: bankruptcy filings, court records of tax liens and monetary judgments
  • Inquiries: a record of those who have reviewed a consumer's credit information
How often are credit reports updated?
In general, creditors forward information to the credit reporting agencies monthly after payments for that billing cycle are posted. Because billing cycles vary, account updates are received by the credit reporting agencies throughout the month. However, it is important to note that lenders are not required to report account information to the national credit reporting agencies. Participation is entirely voluntary.

What do I need to know about my credit score?

Credit scoring is a separate process from credit reporting. Lenders and other credit grantors obtain consumers' scores by selecting the scoring methods that are most predictive of risk for their specific kind of business. There is not one credit score. In fact, there are hundreds of credit scoring systems used by lenders. However, a credit score results from information in a consumer's credit report, translating various score factors into a simple number. This enables lenders to make more objective, consistent lending decisions — and make them more fairly and quickly.

Consumers also may track their own credit scores from a number of sources, including Experian.com. Any score consumers receive through a consumer score disclosure service, such as a credit reporting agency, will explain what the number means in terms of general credit risk and will describe the factors from the credit report that most influenced the score.

Credit score factors are the elements from consumers' credit reports that shape their credit scores. They could include:
  • Payment history
  • Credit usage
  • Average age of accounts
  • Account types
  • Inquiries
Factors like total debt, types of accounts, number of late payments and age of accounts affect credit scores; however, information such as marital status, age and occupation does not. Credit factors indicate what elements of a consumer's credit report most affected the credit score at the time it was calculated.

Source: Experian

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Fall Security Tips to Keep Your Family Safe

September 17, 2014 4:33 am

School activities are picking up and as daylight hours dwindle, it's more important now than ever to ensure that safety stays top of mind for all family members.

"With busy schedules and back-to-back school activities, it's important for families to remember to keep safety and security a priority," said Rebecca Smith, vice president, marketing for Master Lock. "Now that school year routines are established, it's a perfect time to address safety topics with your family, such as guidelines for social media use and getting to and from home safely."

Follow these top five tips from Master Lock to stay safe this fall:

1. Be aware of surroundings. As dusk and darkness creep up earlier each day, remind children to follow safety precautions on their way to and from home. Whether walking all the way home or just to a parked car, students are advised to be aware of their surroundings, stick with a friend or in a group, stay in well-lit areas, avoid short cuts and always observe traffic rules.

2. Establish a "home alone" routine. Sometimes situations arise where children and teens will be home without supervision, whether coming home after school to an empty house or due to busy weekend activities. It's natural for parents to feel uneasy at first, but with some planning, both parents and children can feel confident when the time comes. Set guidelines with your children to follow when home alone including, locking the door immediately after entering the house, calling to check in as soon as he or she gets home, not answering the door for any visitors and reviewing relevant emergency phone numbers and exit plans.

3. Set ground rules for social media sharing. Teens are sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than ever before. As parents, it's necessary to evaluate the information your child is sharing and advise them on security risks of sharing too much identifying information. Set ground rules for what your child can disclose online, and teach your child how to set privacy controls so that photos, location and personal information do not end up in the wrong hands.

4. Lock down valuables on the field. Lockers help keep gadgets, wallets, house or car keys and other belongings secure while in class, but what keeps them secure outside of school? Keep valuables locked up with a small, portable safe that kids can easily fit in their backpacks, gym bags or lock down to a fixed object while attending after school activities.

5. Inspect to protect. While talking with your children about safety guidelines, fall is also an ideal time to create or practice a fire safety plan. Start with inspecting your home thoroughly ensuring all smoke detectors are functioning properly and review the sound of the alarm with children so they know what do to when it goes off. Make an evacuation plan by visiting each room in your home, designating two ways out and check that all windows and doors open easily. Lastly, designate a safe meeting place outside the home where your family can gather after exiting. This meeting place should be close to the home, but not too close to be in danger from the fire, and in front of the house so that fire safety personnel can easily see you as they arrive. It should also be somewhere easy to find in day or night, such as near a telephone pole, tree or mailbox. Most importantly, practice the escape plan.

Source: Master Lock

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Guard Children and Pets from Lyme Disease

September 17, 2014 4:33 am

Even as weather cools down, it's important to remember children and pets are at greater risk of being infected with Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases such as anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Because people and their pets often spend time in the same environments disease-transmitting ticks are found, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) offer guidance to households with children and pets.

According to the AVMA and the AAP, people whose animals have been diagnosed with Lyme disease should consult their physician about their own risk. Likewise, people who have been diagnosed with Lyme disease should consult their veterinarian to assess their pet's risk based on the animal's lifestyle and possible environmental exposures.

People or animals may be bitten while hiking or camping, during other outdoor activities, or even while spending time in their backyards. If a child or pet is diagnosed with Lyme disease, it is likely that other family members or pets also have been in an environment that could lead to exposure. Therefore, the initial case of Lyme disease in a household should serve to flag the risk of exposure and suggest a need for other family members or pets to notify their physicians and veterinarians, who can advise about further evaluation or testing.

There are many things humans can do to avoid exposure to tick bites, including: avoiding areas where ticks are found; covering arms, legs, head and feet when outdoors; wearing light-colored clothing; using insecticides; and checking for ticks once indoors.

Likewise, people with pets are encouraged to speak with their veterinarian about tick preventive products, to clear shrubbery next to homes and keep lawns well maintained, and to check for ticks on themselves and their animals once indoors.

Source: AVMA

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Housing Survey: A Third of Homebuyers Would Exceed Budget for the Right Home

September 17, 2014 4:33 am

The majority (61 percent) of Americans who say they're likely to buy a house in the next five years have put a home buying budget in place, but a third (36 percent) would go over the planned purchase price if they wanted the house enough, according to a recent survey by BMO Harris Bank. Among current homeowners, 49 percent stuck to their budget when buying, but 19 percent went over and 20 percent didn't have a budget for their current home.

On average, American homeowners who went over budget exceeded it by $31,587. Those who came in under budget (13 percent) went lower by an average of $25,083. Half (49 percent) set a maximum amount they could spend and stuck to it.

"A budget is an essential piece to the home buying process. Putting one in place takes time, and has to consider a variety of factors including savings, income and interest and mortgage rates," said Kevin Christopher, Head of Mortgage Sales, BMO Harris Bank. "What we're seeing from our survey is that homebuyers don't always leave themselves that cushion. Implementing and stress-testing a budget is key, not only during the pre-approval process but to ensure that when interest rates go up, homeowners are prepared."

Taking First Steps

First-time buyers are less likely to have a fixed budget that they will stick to (54 percent), and are more likely than those who have owned to say they are willing to go over budget (44 percent). A third (32 percent) say they expect their parents will help pay for the cost.

While only 13 percent of first-time buyers are currently pre-approved for a mortgage, 83 percent plan to go through the process before they purchase a home. There is some worry about the process, with 64 percent concerned they might not be pre-approved.

Putting Money Down
The survey of American homeowners also found:
  • The vast majority (89 percent) of homeowners had a mortgage at some point and half (52 percent) have had a home equity line of credit (HELOC) at some point.
  • A third (35 percent) are paying their original mortgage, while a similar percentage (30 percent) have refinanced, and 35 percent have paid off their mortgage.
  • Americans expect to have their mortgage fully paid off by age 59.
  • While not surprising that older homeowners are more likely to have paid off their homes, 40 percent of those over 65 are still paying off their mortgage.
The average down payment that Americans planning to buy in the next five years will make is 25 percent, and 87 percent feel confident they will have the down payment they're hoping for to buy their next house.

"Household balance sheets are now relatively healthy, helped by rising asset prices, moderate income growth and, most importantly, lower debt levels. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, from early 2008 to mid-2013, household debt was reduced by $1.5 trillion, as both borrowers and lenders came to terms with the housing and credit bubbles whose subsequent bursting is held to blame for the Great Recession," said Michael Gregory, Head of U.S. Economics, BMO Capital Markets. "Household credit is starting to flow again -- nearly $480 billion in the past year -- led by mortgages, student loans and auto financing. However, both borrowers and lenders are approaching HELOCs more conservatively, a sign that greater prudence might be the ultimate -- welcome -- legacy of the recent recession. Borrowing within one's means is critically important to maintaining a healthy state of household finances."

Survey results cited in this report are from a Pollara survey commissioned by BMO Harris Bank using interviews with an online sample of 2,500 Americans conducted between April 1st and 7th, 2014. The margin of error for a probability sample of 2,500 is ± 1.96%.


Source: BMO Harris Bank

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How to Keep Children Happy with Kid-Friendly Spaces

September 16, 2014 4:33 am

(BPT) - Would a great study space ease your child's transition from summer to school? Perhaps an awesome lounge area could convince your teens - and all their friends - that your house is the best hangout spot ever. Whatever your objectives, a few design and decorating tricks can help you create a kid-friendly space in your home.

Good design basics that make grown-up spaces appealing also work in children's spaces. When designing a kid-friendly room, however, it's important to keep in mind not only the purpose of the room (study, fun, sleep, etc.), but the age of the occupant, his or her interests, as well as incorporating fun into the design. Here are some tips to get you started:

Consider creating a theme.
Kids of all ages love themes. To decide which one might be right for your project, consider things your child has shown an enduring interest in. For example, she may be into princesses right now and hate the theme next year. On the other hand, if she's always loved the color pink and has a passion for animals, those elements could be worked into a theme that she'll appreciate for years to come.

Choose flooring that fulfills multiple needs. Carpeting absorbs sound (for when kids play loud video games or music) and is comfortable for youngsters who like to sit or lie on the floor while they do homework, read, watch television or socialize. Stain-resistant formulas and durable fibers ensure modern carpeting can stand up to the rigors of use in a child's room. And, according to the Carpet & Rug Institute, properly cleaned carpet can maintain indoor air quality, making it a viable choice for families impacted by asthma and allergies.

A child's space needs layers of lighting, just as adult spaces do. As you're choosing lighting, keep in mind how your child will use the room. If he will be doing homework, task lighting and desk lights will illuminate study areas. Will the room be a movie room or a "hangout" for older teens? Recessed and dimmable lighting may be appropriate. Don't forget to include natural light in your illumination plans. Avoid heavy drapery and opt for bright colors and lightweight materials for window treatments so windows admit ample light. If you have a larger budget, consider adding a skylight to provide light while preserving privacy.

Organization is key in a child's room, and ample storage facilitates good organization. Depending on the size of the room and how it will be used, shelving, portable cubes, book cases and other furnishings can provide plenty of storage space. For desks, look for desktop organizers that will keep important papers and supplies tidy and close at hand. By helping kids stay organized now, you'll be laying the foundation for a lifetime of good organizational skills.

Remember the fun factor. Whatever the purpose of a child's room, fun should be a universal theme. You can infuse fun in a room in many ways, from creating a video game center for lounge rooms to choosing colorful, texturally appealing carpeting for a bedroom. A touch of whimsy, such as a swing hung from the ceiling or a wall mural of your child's favorite cartoon character, can produce smiles every time kids see them.

With some creativity and the right decorating materials, it's possible to create a space that will make children comfortable, happy and ready to tackle the new school year.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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