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

How Many Subs Will It Take to Build Your New Home?

March 25, 2016 1:58 am

While many folks planning for building a new home deal directly with their primary contractor, I was intrigued to learn about how much of responsibility - and project costs - are shifted to subcontractors on a typical new home project.

A recent report from the National Association of Home Builders (nahb.org) sought to remind the public of how much the construction of a typical home relies on subcontracting.

The latest survey shows builders often employ 20 or more different subcontractors on a single-family project - subcontracting out over 75 percent of their construction costs!

The NAHB survey also asked builders how often they subcontract 23 different jobs. In every case, the job was always subcontracted by at least two-thirds of the builders.

At the low end of the scale, “only” 68 percent of builders said they always subcontract finished carpentry. But over 90 percent of builders said they always subcontracted concrete flatwork, masonry, drywall, foundations fireplaces, technology, plumbing, electrical wiring, HVAC, carpeting and security systems.

Even when builders don’t subcontract these jobs all the time, it’s common to subcontract them at least part of the time the survey analysis states.

Working with subcontractors, maintaining relationships with them, and being able to schedule a relatively large number of them to complete projects on time while maintaining control over quality takes time to master and is an important part of being a successful home builder, the NAHB analysis states.

This should lead homeowners mounting a building project in 2016 to look for more than proven hands-on construction skills to determine how successfully (and on budget) their contractor or builder will complete the work.  It seems to make sense since anywhere between half and two-thirds of your finished home is in their hands.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Easter By the Numbers

March 24, 2016 1:55 am

Easter may be arriving early this year, but that won’t curb holiday spending.

According to a report by the National Retail Federation (NRF), Easter spending this year is expected to reach $17.3 billion—a record high—with Americans spending an average of $146 each on everything from food to flowers. The breakdown is as follows:

• Food ($5.5 billion)
• Clothing ($3 billion)
• Gifts ($2.7 billion)
• Candy ($2.4 billion)
• Flowers ($1.2 billion)

And this year, celebrants will spend the day in a variety of ways. The most popular activities:

• Visiting Family and Friends
• Cooking a Holiday Meal
• Going to Church
• Going to a Restaurant
• Having an Easter Egg Hunt
• Opening Gifts

“Easter is a traditional holiday that consumers of all ages and on all budget levels celebrate with family and friends,” says Pam Goodfellow, principal analyst at Prosper Insights & Analytics, which contributed to NRF’s report. “Consumers have long lists of items they need to get their spring off to a good start.”

Source: NRF

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Frustrated by a Furniture Retailer? You're Not Alone

March 24, 2016 1:55 am

Consumers rely on a range of industries and services when it comes to owning a home—but one service tends to leave little to be desired, according to a report by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

The BBB, which facilitates consumer grievances with various industries, reports that more consumers are submitting complaints about furniture retailers, citing a 12.9 percent spike in complaints in the last year alone.

“The furniture industry saw 5 percent growth in 2015, so that explains part of the increase,” says Rubens Pessanha, director of Market Research and Insights for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “More than half of the complaints to BBB had to do with the products themselves: the quality, delivery, guarantees, and refunds and exchanges.

“The good news,” Pessanha adds, “is that the industry has a respectable rate of settling BBB complaints…85 percent. That’s better than the overall average of 79 percent across all industries.”

The BBB also reported an increase in inquiries related to home maintenance services, though these inquiries do not necessarily reflect complaints on the part of consumers.

Source: BBB

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Crafting Shelter for Birds, Spaces for Spring Singers – Pt. 1

March 24, 2016 1:55 am

The quintessential sign that spring has sprung is the boisterous singing of backyard birds. Sure, there's always a crow's caw or sparrow's chirp around the backyard in winter, but we're talking about singers!

According to Audubon New York, protecting birds is a critical environmental mission—and who wouldn't like attracting a few more springtime song birds to their yards?

Whether your yard is large or small, you can use it to help birds, according to the organization's website, by providing food, water, shelter and potential nesting places, you can help birds thrive and survive.

And with a few simple steps, you can create a haven for both migratory and resident birds. For attracting birds, Audubon New York advises:

• Take inventory of what you already have and consider ways you can supplement what’s already there with native plants that help mimic natural habitats;

• Incorporate plants that offer shelter, food, nesting material and even a singing perch;

• Add a bird bath and additional foods, such as sunflower and suet, to help round out your offerings.

And if you're already equipped to welcome song birds back, it's time to clean feeders and diversify:

• Hang hummingbird feeders in April or May, and orange halves to attract orioles.

• Remove last year’s nests from nest boxes, install new ones as needed and provide short lengths of string, wool and other materials for nest-building.

• Plan your plantings. Native species provide the best year-round shelter and food resources.

The National Wildlife Federation (nwf.org) also offers some great advice on reinforcing or establishing a songbird-friendly yard: birds often seek protected places to roost or sleep. Dense vegetation found in thickets or the interior branches of evergreens serve as a windbreak and conceal the birds from night-prowling predators.

In winter, a few species of songbirds—the ones that nest in tree cavities or birdhouses in spring—will also use roost boxes to stay warm. Among them: bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, screech owls and some woodpeckers.

In Part 2 of this segment, we'll focus on other environmental factors to keep songbirds thriving on your property.

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Own an ASUS Router? FTC Says 12,000 Users Were Hacked!

March 23, 2016 1:55 am

To borrow from a popular commercial tag line: what's in your router? We recently learned, along with 12,000 consumers, what wasn't included with their ASUS brand Internet router: appropriate security infrastructure.

Recently, the Taiwan-based computer hardware maker ASUSTeK Computer, Inc. agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that critical security flaws in its routers put the home networks of hundreds of thousands of consumers at risk.

The administrative complaint also charges that the routers’ insecure cloud services led to the compromise of thousands of consumers’ connected storage devices, exposing their sensitive personal information on the Internet.

The proposed consent order will require ASUS to establish and maintain a comprehensive security program subject to independent audits for the next 20 years.

With millions of consumers connecting smart devices to their home networks, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, says routers play a key role in securing home networks.

ASUS marketed its routers as including numerous security features that the company claimed could “protect computers from any unauthorized access, hacking, and virus attacks” and “protect [the] local network against attacks from hackers.” Despite these claims, the FTC’s complaint alleges that ASUS didn’t take reasonable steps to secure the software on its routers.

An FTC release states that in 2014, hackers used readily available tools to locate vulnerable ASUS routers and exploited these security flaws to gain unauthorized access to over 12,900 consumers’ connected storage devices. According to the complaint, hackers could exploit pervasive security bugs in the router’s Web-based control panel to change any of the router’s security settings without the consumer’s knowledge.

In addition, ASUS’ routers also featured services called AiCloud and AiDisk that allowed consumers to plug a USB hard drive into the router to create their own cloud storage accessible from any of their devices. While ASUS advertised these services as a “private personal cloud for selective file sharing” and a way to “safely secure and access your treasured data through your router,” the FTC’s complaint alleges that the services had serious security flaws.

Keep up to date on loads of important consumer topics right here and at consumer.ftc.gov.

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The Ins and Outs of Credit Reports and Scores

March 23, 2016 1:55 am

From buying a car to buying a home, the information contained in your credit report will determine your financial capability—or culpability. Thoroughly understanding your credit report is essential, says Steve Trumble, president and CEO of American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC), a non-profit organization.

“Consumers are often unaware of the direct impact their credit report and score can have on their financial well-being,” says Trumble. “It can have a significant impact on a whole host of major life events, such as getting a job, buying a car, purchasing a home, or even renting an apartment.”

Your credit report outlines a detailed account of your financial history, which informs your credit score. Lenders, landlords and more use these scores to understand a person’s level of risk when it comes to meeting their financial obligations, such as paying back loans. Both credit reports and credit scores can affect a person’s ability to get credit, as well as the terms and rates of that credit.

The most common scoring system is the FICO score. The credit score ranges anywhere from 300 to 850. Based on this scoring system, the higher the score, the lower the risk, and vice versa. If you have a lower FICO score, then you may have a higher interest rate, which would lead to higher monthly payments.

You’re entitled to one free credit report each year from each reporting agency: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The credit report will contain identifying information, such as your Social Security number and date of birth, trade lines, credit inquiries and public records and collections.

When buying a home, the mortgage lender will review all of your credit reports and credit scores. Ordinarily, your credit score should be anywhere above 700 in order to receive a standard mortgage interest rate.

When renting an apartment, the landlords or rental agency will review your credit report for negative information, such as missed payments. Those with bad credit may be required to get a co-signer on the lease. 

When seeking insurance, the insurer may request to go through your credit report and credit score in order to determine terms and rates. With this information, the insurer can calculate your insurance risk. The higher the insurance risk score, the better the insurance rates.

When purchasing a car, most auto dealers will rely on your credit score to offer loan terms that match your credit profile. Those with high credit scores will receive the best auto loan rates available; those with low credit scores may receive an excessively high interest rate.

When applying for a credit card, the company will review your credit report and score to decide if you qualify. Keep in mind credit card companies can also review the scores of existing customers and adjust rates accordingly.

Whichever form of credit you apply for, it pays to know your score, as well as the information contained in your report. Having that information can help pave the path toward a successful financial future.

Source: ACCC

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Buying a Home? 3 Ways to Beat the Competition

March 23, 2016 1:55 am

With home prices on the rise and mortgage rates still relatively low, now is the ideal time to buy a home. But in this type of market, competing offers can shut you out of the home of your dreams if you’re not prepared.

Beat the competition this home buying season with these 3 tips, courtesy of NeighborWorks America, a national nonprofit corporation.

1. Seek professional guidance. More than two-thirds of homebuyers in a recent NeighborWorks survey said that the home buying process is complicated. The best way to get a thorough understanding of the process is to consult with a real estate professional. If you find your finances are lacking, you may also want to meet with a housing counselor, who can offer additional support.

“The housing market is tough right now, with fewer homes for sale on the market than usual, and new mortgage rules and many mortgage products from which to choose,” says Marietta Rodriguez, spokesperson for NeighborWorks America. “To be in the strongest position to make an offer that is accepted, consumers have to be prepared. That's where initial consultation with a housing counselor is a great first-step.”

2. Build a budget. National surveys have shown that less than one-third of consumers have a budget. Go into this home buying season with a budget that includes potential changes in commuting costs after purchase, home maintenance expenses, and even estimates for changes in life circumstances (such as becoming a parent or paying for college) to have a leg-up on the competition.

“Once all the numbers are on the table, it's easier to see what type of home suits a family's budget and needs, what might be necessary financial trade-offs, and what could be a direct line to trouble,” says Rodriguez.

3. Remain informed. The supply of homes on the market will be tight this season. Getting into a bidding war could weaken your resolve, and could push you beyond your means financially. In these circumstances, don’t be tempted to forgo important steps in the process, like the home inspection.

“Forgoing a home inspection to move up a place in the bidding process could be costly down the road if problems and defects with the home arise,” says Rodriguez.” NeighborWorks recommends that homebuyers have a home inspection, and know as much as possible about the inside of a home as the outside.”

Follow these three tips to ensure you stay ahead of the competition, and remember: contact a real estate professional. He or she can help you see you through from pre-approval to close.

Source: NeighborWorks America

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How Will You Pay Yourself in Retirement?

March 22, 2016 1:52 am

Depends on who you ask, according to research conducted by Ameriprise Financial. The financial services provider recently posed the question to both pre-retirees and retirees in a study, revealing contrasting confidence levels between the two.

According to study findings, 85 percent of retirees have a plan in place to pay themselves in retirement, and thus feel at ease; just 53 percent of pre-retirees have developed a retirement plan, and feel less confident that they’ve saved enough money to last their lifetime.

“Figuring out how to recreate a paycheck in retirement can be one of the most daunting challenges investors face,” says Marcy Keckler, vice president of Financial Advice Strategy at Ameriprise. “Add to it recent market volatility, and it’s easy to see why pre-retirees who have not developed a retirement income plan feel less confident that they’ll have the money they need to cover their expenses.”

Despite this, 73 percent of pre-retirees cited in the study said they plan to retire at age 65.

“The good news,” says Keckler, “is that they still have time to take action. By putting a plan in place now, while they’re still earning a traditional paycheck, they may be able to achieve similar levels of confidence as their older peers.”

In a shift from previous generations, pre-retirees today are relying less on pensions and more on 401(k)s and IRAs, which places the burden on the individual, rather than his or her employer, to save for retirement. It’s likely the next wave of retirees will need to spend more time calculating optimal withdrawal rates and exploring guaranteed sources of income.

Tax treatment of investments is one of the most important considerations when deciding how or when to draw income. As retirees reach their 70½ birthdays, Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) will dictate how much money they must withdraw from their retirement accounts annually. Retirees may face penalties if distributions are not taken or calculated incorrectly; therefore, it’s crucial to consider these tax rules when formulating retirement income plans.

The majority of retirees surveyed in the study relied on financial professionals to design their plans.

“When transitioning from a pre-retiree to a retiree, figuring out how to spend your savings can be an overwhelming process,” Keckler says. “A financial advisor can serve as a critical source of information to help you develop a tailored, comprehensive plan to fit your retirement income needs.”

Source: Ameriprise Financial, Inc.

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5 Habits for Greener Living

March 22, 2016 1:52 am

(Family Features)—Adopting just one environmentally-conscious habit can make a world of difference—really! The majority of individuals who make choices that help preserve natural resources report feeling happier when doing so, according to a study by packaging product manufacturer Tetra Pak.

“We believe that even simple lifestyle behaviors have the power to make a big impact, on both a personal and global scale,” says Elisabeth Comere, director of Environment and Government Affairs for Tetra Pak. “The combined benefit of the small actions we take, from taking shorter showers to choosing products in renewable packaging—made of natural resources that can be replenished over time—can benefit the world around us while making us happier.” 

Comere recommends starting with one of the following lifestyle changes:

1. Conserve resources, including water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates cutting your shower by just one minute will save two and a half gallons of water. Over time, that savings adds up: 75 gallons per month and nearly 1,000 gallons over the course of a year.

2. Choose products in renewable packaging. Choosing food and beverage products in renewable packaging is a natural extension of environmentally-friendly habits, such as recycling or composting. From milk and soup to water and juice, you can find food products packaged in cartons—primarily made from paper, a renewable resource from growing forests.

3. Buy only what you can consume. At the grocery store, it's easy to over-shop, especially if you're hungry. Buy only what you need, and seek groceries that are considered renewable, such as fruits and vegetables.

4. Use reusable containers. These days, hectic lifestyles are the norm and that often means meals and beverages on the go. When possible, rely on reusable drink and food containers instead of disposable ones.

5. Whenever you can, bike or walk instead of driving. According to data compiled by National Geographic, it takes nearly 13 gallons of water to produce each gallon of gasoline. Using alternative modes of transportation, or car pooling, can help cut water and energy demands.

Adopting just one of these renewable habits can help preserve the planet's resources while fast-tracking levels of happiness. Which of these green changes will you make?

Source: Tetra Pak

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Spring Reset: Colors and Ideas to Refresh Your Home

March 22, 2016 1:52 am

There’s no season like springtime to refresh, renew (and redo!) your home—and one of the simplest ways to breathe new life into it is with a fresh color palette.

“Spring embodies the saying ‘Out with the old, in with the new,’ and provides the opportunity for consumers to apply this mantra in a favorite room in their home,” says Katie Reynolds, an Atlanta-based design expert for Ace Hardware. “This is the perfect time of year to use unexpected pops of color and experiment with fresh, new design ideas."

Reynolds, along with fellow Ace design experts Nathan Fischer and Julia Richard, list these spring shades to try:

• Pink is having a moment! Pair blush tones with crisp whites—the combination will make a big impact in any room. Mix in as an accent by painting a dresser or chest in a soft pink shade.

Turquoise never seems to go out of style. Use it sparingly to highlight other subtler colors in any room.

• Bright shades of coral will bring your home to life. Paint coral on an eye-catching accent wall or introduce it through tabletop accessories. Pair with neutral clay-brown tones to even out its intensity.

To take these on-trend shades to the next level, incorporate these five elements, says Reynolds, Fischer and Richard:

• Vintage Accessories (Birdcages, Lanterns)
• Wall Prints
• Mirrored Accents (Lamps, Side Tables)
• Zebrawood (Cabinet, Chest)
• French Doors

Spring is the perfect time of year to press “reset.” Draw inspiration from the tips above to reset your home this season. You may find these colors have staying power!

Source: Ace Hardware

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