RE/MAX 440
Margaret Schickling

Margaret Schickling
4092 Skippack Pike, P.O. Box 880  Skippack  PA 19474
Phone:  610-584-1160
Office:  610-584-1160
Cell:  610-802-0891
Fax:  267-354-6252

My Blog

It's High Time for High-Tech Homes

August 1, 2016 2:10 am


More houses are turning into high-tech hubs of connectivity and convenience. Technology, in fact, has become one of the improvements most requested by homeowners, reports the Remodelers Council of the Greater Houston Builders Association (GHBA).

According to Matt Sneller, owner of Sneller Custom Homes and Remodeling in Spring, Texas, a low-voltage cabling and wiring infrastructure is the core of a connected home. The infrastructure supports everything from the alarm and audio systems to the HVAC and telephone.

Cameras are also a component in the connected home, says Bill Riley, owner of Bicycle Bungalows in Houston, Texas. Riley reports more of his clients are replacing costly security systems and monitoring services with self-controlled cameras.

LED lights are another sought-after, high-tech feature, due to their energy efficiency. Sneller recommends consulting with a cool lighting system company that offers products with geo-fencing technology, as well as smartphone control capability.

Appliance manufacturers have also joined the connected home club, now producing apps that allow homeowners to wirelessly control their appliances, and even take stock of the items within them, adds Riley.

According to Rob Douglass, owner of Texas Custom Patios, no high-tech home is complete without a connection to the outside. Douglass suggests installing a universal system that controls both indoor and outdoor features, such as a flat-screen television or surround-sound.

Source: Remodelers Council of the Greater Houston Builders Association (GHBA)
 

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Sales by the Seashore: 10 Affordable Markets for Vacation Homebuyers

August 1, 2016 2:10 am


Location, location, location…an adage vacation homebuyers know all too well.

Turns out, there are beach towns that are not only in a prime location, but with homes at prime prices, too. According to a recent ranking by HomeUnion, the top 10 are:

1. Two Rivers, Wis.
Median Home Price: $85,300
Average Rent: $835

2. Angola, N.Y.
Median Home Price: $107,400
Average Rent: $1,180

3. Bayonet Point, Fla.
Median Home Price: $122,100
Average Rent: $1,193

4. Dexter, N.Y.
Median Home Price: $137,800
Average Rent: $1,294

5. Mastic Beach, N.Y.
Median Home Price: $138,200
Average Rent: $1,333

6. Oak Hill, Fla.
Median Home Price: $152,800
Average Rent: $1,126

7. Baltimore, Md.
Median Home Price: $184,600
Average Rent: $1,479

8. Jensen Beach, Fla.
Median Home Price: $213,900
Average Rent: $2,137

9. Cobb Island, Md.
Median Home Price: $222,000
Average Rent: $1,583

10. Berlin, Md.
Median Home Price: $236,200
Average Rent: 1,558

“Since home prices have remained low across the Midwest for the past few years, it's no surprise that Two Rivers, Wis., on the shores of Lake Michigan, tops our list,” says HomeUnion Director of Research Steve Hovland. “But there are still plenty of seaside bargains to be found throughout Florida, along the Atlantic Ocean, in expensive housing markets like suburban New York City, and even on the Pacific Ocean in California.”

HomeUnion compiled the ranking based on factors such as crime rate, inventory and proximity to specific bodies of water.

Source: HomeUnion
 

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Fear of the Unknown: Tips for Retirement Savers

July 29, 2016 2:07 am


(Family Features)—Recently released data show half of Americans are afraid they’ll outlive their income. This finding, from the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council (IALC), signifies a fear of the unknown in retirement: life expectancy and healthcare expense.

“Americans are living longer than ever, so it's no surprise that the No. 1 retirement fear is that they'll run out of money in their final years,” says Jim Poolman, executive director of the IALC. “Thankfully, there are strategies and products out there that can help you create sufficient retirement income to last throughout your lifetime, which can help with this crippling fear.”

Poolman and the IALC recommend beginning with a retirement budget—one that factors in all estimated costs, and can be adjusted periodically based on circumstance. Market volatility and career changes both should play a role, as well. Poolman says pre-retirees with a budget in mind save up to three times more than those without a plan.

Work toward a balanced retirement portfolio, Poolman advises. This may mean investing in a fixed indexed annuity (FIA) in addition to a 401(k). FIAs are ideal for those nearing retirement, because they are low-risk.

Set up automatic transfers to your retirement savings account(s) to avoid spending the money unnecessarily. Treat your account as a debt you owe to yourself, Poolman suggests—in effect, you are “paying yourself” every month.

Pre-retirees should monitor their savings balances more often as they close in on retirement age. Generally, the older you are, the less risk you are able to tolerate, Poolman says, and your savings may not recover in time.

Pre-retirees might also benefit from the services of a retirement advisor, Poolman adds. Seek out a reputable professional to discuss investment options with you, as well as keep you on track toward your savings goals before and during retirement.

Source: Indexed Annuity Leadership Council (IALC)
 

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Is Your Lawn Suffering Summer Burnout?

July 29, 2016 2:07 am


It happens every year: your lawn burns out, browning as it succumbs to summer heat. What’s a homeowner to do?

Lawn grass needs water to thrive—even cool season grasses that go dormant in hot weather, says Mike McGroarty of MikesBackyardNursery.com. If your lawn hasn’t received water due to a hot, dry spell, there’s a chance some areas of it may die.

Burned-out lawns can be revived with an overseeder, which is a machine that drops grass seed into pockets of soil. An overseeder can be rented at a home improvement store, such as Home Depot.

Apply weed killer before overseeding, McGroarty recommends—weeds tend to grow in areas damaged by drought.

Home Depot advises homeowners to remove damaged grasses and dead weeds, out to a six-inch radius beyond the patch, before overseeding. Home Depot also suggests turning the soil to a depth of six inches, removing rocks or roots that could inhibit new growth, and adding compost or manure to the turned soil—this step will fortify the foundation of the lawn.

For more tips on overseeding, visit blog.homedepot.com.
 

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Pokemon on Your Property? Insurance Covers It

July 29, 2016 2:07 am


Pokémon Go players have swarmed the streets, out in the real world, in real time—and causing real damage, as recent reports have shown.

Homeowners have little to fear (unless a Haunter appears), according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). In most cases, homeowners insurance will cover damage brought on by players traversing property, as well as damage should a break-in occur.

Generally, homeowners (and renters) insurance policies cover damage caused to another’s property and possessions, and provide liability coverage for incidents, namely injury, on the property.

The I.I.I. recommends all homeowners and renters, Pokéfans included, take stock of the inventory in their homes—this will make the claims process much simpler.

“We think it’s great that people are getting outside and enjoying Pokémon Go,” said Loretta Worters, vice president of the I.I.I., in a statement, “but it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and be sure you’re adequately protected against risk.”

Source: Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.)
 

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Hot Tip: Maintaining the AC Unit

July 28, 2016 2:04 am


No homeowner wants to deal with an air conditioner out of commission, especially entering the stifling dog days of summer. To keep cool through the remainder of the season, maintaining the unit is key.

The first—and simplest—maintenance step is to change the filter in the unit. According to the experts at One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating, the filter should be swapped out every month, or as often as the manufacturer recommends.

The unit should also be kept clear of debris and unobstructed—One Hour’s experts say this allows the unit to function properly without consuming more energy than is necessary.

Have a service professional clean and inspect the unit, as well. He or she will be able to identify any issues before they become major (and expensive!).

Bear in mind that if the unit is not cooling effectively even after it has been serviced, it may be time to replace it, says Eric Corbett of Larry & Sons, Inc., a Maryland-based air conditioning, heating and plumbing company.

“Upgrading a home heating and air conditioning unit gives homeowners a chance to save money and control the temperature in their homes more efficiently,” Corbett says. “This can lead to significant savings when it comes to utility costs.”

Look for an ENERGY STAR® unit rated high in its seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), Corbett recommends. SEER indicates the relative amount of energy needed to cool a specific area–a high-rated unit may save up to half the energy of a lesser-rated product.

Size is also a factor when purchasing a new unit, according to Corbett—a unit that is too large will not eliminate humidity, and a unit that is too small will not cool.

Additionally, consider a unit with other energy-efficient features, such as an automatically-delaying fan switch, a fan-only switch, a filter check light, a thermal expansion valve or a variable speed handler, Corbett says.

An air conditioning unit that consistently works overtime will fail that much sooner, caution One Hour’s experts. Maintaining the unit will not only provide adequate relief from the heat, but also ensure it remains efficient and operational through the season.

Sources: Larry & Sons, Inc., One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating
 

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Pests on Your Property? Don't Spray Yet!

July 28, 2016 2:04 am


As a homeowner, you may be inclined to eliminate pests from your landscape at first sighting. We don’t blame you!

Most pests, however, are harmless, and in fact beneficial, to a landscape’s ecosystem. Pest-related damage, though alarming, is likely a sign that a natural process is occurring.

“A landscape without insects and microorganisms would be a very unhealthy environment,” explained Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist for the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), in a statement. “The trick is to the balance the threshold of healthy with having too much of a good thing, when the naturally-occurring insects and diseases become a problem.”

According to the TCIA, pests are one of many rungs on the ladder of the ecosystem, contributing to decomposition and other natural processes. Commercial pest removal sprays disrupt those processes.

“This is where an integrated pest management (IPM) program may benefit your landscape plants,” Andersen said.

To implement this system, the TCIA advises exercising proactive measures, such as irrigation and mulching, and consulting a tree care professional—the latter will be able to provide recommendations should pests become a problem.

“A healthy landscape is less susceptible to pest outbreaks and is more resilient if an outbreak does occur,” concluded Andersen.

Source: Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA)
 

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Self-Driving Cars to Transform Cities, Housing

July 28, 2016 2:04 am


Self-driving cars have made headlines as a revolutionary invention, but little has been written about their revolutionary impact—until now.

According to a recently released report by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the preponderance of self-driving vehicles (SDVs) could result in less accidents, less pollution and less traffic in urban centers brimming with commuters.

“There is a compelling case to be made for SDVs in cities,” said Nikolaus Lang, co-author of the report, which postulates that cities will be irrevocably altered by the self-driving car, in a statement. “Ride-shared, electric robo-taxis can substantially transform and improve urban transportation, and, by direct extension, livability, by providing more people with easier access to mobility, making streets safer, and freeing up space no longer needed for parking.”

The report estimates universal use of SDVs, including robo-taxis, could reduce the number of cars on city streets by 60 percent, reduce vehicle emissions by 80 percent, and reduce accidents by 90 percent.

Developments such as these are not far off, if the report’s findings bear out—58 percent of drivers in cities around the world are open to an SDV, and many are willing to pay a premium for one. The initial upfront cost, they reason, pales in comparison to the potential savings, including on gas and parking fees.

Savings could even be realized in housing, the report adds—SDVs may make it “more convenient to live farther from the expensive city core.”

Policymakers believe SDVs will soon have a transformative effect on cities, as well. Sixty percent of those included in the report expect at least one city to ban conventional car ownership by 2025.

That city, with few cars, less road incidents and minimal pollution, will serve as a paradigm for others, and a catalyst for widespread adoption, the report concludes.

Source: The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
 

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5 Tips to Create a Multi-Tasking Home Office

July 27, 2016 1:55 am


Did you know approximately 40 percent of employees telecommute to the office?

Remote work has made the home office a necessity for many of us, but without space to spare, dedicating an area for work can be difficult.

Enter the multi-tasking office—not only functional during working hours, but also practical for a range of activities, from entertaining to exercising.

To make a multi-tasking office in your home:

Use every square inch. Work with the room’s existing layout—tuck a desk into an attic dormer, for example, or convert a closet into a workspace.

Divide the room visually. Cordon off work space with curtains, a folding screen or partition, concealing other areas of the room not in use while “at the office.”

Look up. Make use of wall space for maximum storage. To stay organized while the room is not an office, install layered shelving on just one accent wall.

Go mobile. Attach locking coasters to the desk and other furniture; this will make moving pieces simple when it is time to repurpose the space.

Double up. Turn the space into a guest bedroom—take a break (or host clients) on a compact daybed that doubles as a sofa, or install a stowaway Murphy bed against the wall.

Source: Brandpoint
 

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Does Your House Match National Construction Trends?

July 27, 2016 1:55 am


The U.S. Census Bureau recently unveiled the latest national annual data on the characteristics of new, privately-owned residences, gathered in the 2015 Survey of Construction (SOC). The SOC’s statistics divulge trends in homebuilding, painting an insightful portrait of the American home today.

According to the SOC, the median size of a single-family house built last year is 2,467 square feet. Of the 648,000 single-family homes built last year:

• 600,000 have air conditioning
• 282,000 have at least four bedrooms
• 246,000 have at least three bathrooms
• 183,000 have a fiber-cement exterior
• 137,000 have an open foyer
• 122,000 have a patio and porch
• 66,000 have at most two bedrooms
• 25,000 have at most one and one-half bathrooms

The median size of a single-family house sold last year is 2,520 square feet, according to the SOC. Of the 501,000 single-family homes sold last year:

• 453,000 are detached homes
• 348,000 were paid for with conventional financing
• 327,000 have a two-car garage
• 278,000 have two stories
• 200,000 have one story
• 131,000 have at least a three-car garage
• 49,000 are attached homes
• 42,000 were VA-guaranteed
• 24,000 have at least three stories

The median sale price of a new single-family house sold last year was $296,400—the average sale price, conversely, was $360,600, per the SOC.

To learn how your home aligns with these trends, view the interactive graphic, “New Single-Family Homes in 2015,” at www.census.gov/construction/chars/interactive/.
 

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