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Mark Strobel
4550 W. Tilghman Street | Allentown, PA 18104
Phone: 610-398-8111 1471 | Office Phone: 610-398-8111 | Fax: 267-354-6254
email: mstrobel@remaxcentralinc.com

My Blog

The Smartest Home Products of 2015

December 21, 2015 2:09 am

From learning thermostats to smartphone-enabled locks, the presence of connected technology in the home grew leaps and bounds in the last year—and in fact, before the year’s out, tech research giant Gartner predicts connected devices will number somewhere near three billion. Without a doubt, 2015 is the year of the smart home.

“2015 was huge because we saw products become easier to use and less expensive,” says Jason Ballard, president and co-founder of home improvement firm TreeHouse. The smartest home products of the year, according to Ballard, include:

• Air Quality Monitors – These smart devices monitor the air in your home and tell you how to make it better. The Foobot, for example, detects volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, carbon dioxide, temperature and humidity.

• Combination Smoke Alarms – The combined smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that hit the market in 2015 have features including industrial-grade smoke sensors, self-tester functions and durability to last up to a decade. One brand in this category, Nest Protect, is the first home alarm you can hush from your phone without any extra hardware required.

• Home Security – Smart locks and video cameras are becoming easier to install, and less expensive. For about $200, you can use your phone to lock and unlock your door. Certain smart locks, such as those produced by August Lock, have the ability to create virtual keys for guests and keep track of who comes and goes. Nest Cam, a home security camera, boasts live streaming, night vision and activity alerts.

• Lighting – In the biggest lighting innovation since LED bulbs hit the market, you can now automate your lights completely to make it seem like you're home when you're not. With geo-fencing technology, your lights can welcome you home or switch off automatically when you leave your home. Most brands in this category let you change the color of lighting in your home, and some, like Philips Hue, can even keep you informed about the weather or incoming calls.

• Smart Sprinklers – Today’s smart lawn watering control systems use your laptop to schedule watering times and automatically adjust for the weather. The Rachio Intelligent Sprinkler Controller, for instance, saves 20-50 percent on water bills.

“‘Smart home’ no longer means building the Jetson’s house,” Ballard adds. “It means adding products to your home that make it safer and healthier.”

Source: TreeHouse

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Holiday Travelers: 5 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Trip

December 18, 2015 2:00 am

With more travelers than ever setting out on holiday excursions this year, mistakes are bound to be made. If you plan on hitting the road this season, steer clear of these five, courtesy of renowned map and atlas publisher Randy McNally:

1. Putting Safety Last (Minute)
Always put safety first. Schedule a tune-up to give the car a thorough check, and get an oil change, tire replacement or rotation if needed. Make sure the lights and windshield wiper blades are working properly, and that the spare tire, jack and jumper cables are in the trunk for emergencies. Other must-haves for the car include a first-aid kit, shovel, broom, scraper, deicer, bag of kitty litter or sand, blankets and flashlights.

2. Not Delegating
Preparing for a road trip should be a team effort. For example, one person could handle the holiday tasks, and the other could make sure the car is ready to go. Families can assign older kids and teens to wrap gifts, and help younger siblings pack and load the car.

3. Chaotic Packing
Time is so short around the holidays that it's tempting to wait until the last minute to scramble and pack your bags. Create a list of all the items you need to pack. When packing the car, take care to separate items you'll need on the road from what you'll need only after you arrive, and load the car first with the least essential items.

4. Being Worried about the Weather
Planning is all about balance. Before and during the trip, check the weather for any sign of treacherous weather. Adjust your plans as needed.

5. Making Haste
Hit the road as far ahead of the holiday and return as late after it as possible. This will not only prevent traveling in heavy traffic, but it will also allow more flexibility in case the weather turns bad.

Source: Rand McNally

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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By Design: Expect Artisan, Art Deco in 2016

December 18, 2015 2:00 am

Interior design evolves as seasons change, and with each new year, fresh trends replace dated fads. What new trends can we expect in 2016?

“Say goodbye to mason jars and chalkboard paint, as the overdone 'farmhouse chic' is finally headed out of style,” says Kerrie Kelly, home design expert, Zillow Digs®. “2016 will bring a fresh modern vibe that beautifully mixes simplicity with bold accents reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties. Watch for an increase in natural colors and textures contrasted by retro art deco statement pieces."

Citing a recent Zillow Digs forecast, Kelly says the mason jar trend, used everywhere from weddings to restaurants, is exhausted, and chalkboard paint is impractical for most households. Kelly also retires burlap details, which are too harsh for indoor use.

Art deco-inspired patterns and shapes will instead take center stage, with a few modern improvements. Look for the style’s trademark geometric patterns and honeycomb shapes in anything from wallpaper to artwork, says Kelly, as well as gold statement lighting fixtures in kitchens and dining rooms.

Nubby wool and other natural fibers will be the go-to texture in 2016, Kelly adds, especially for area rugs, in addition to encaustic tiles utilized in kitchen backsplashes, bathroom shower tiles, accent walls and fireplace mantles.

Flea market finds, travel souvenirs and unique artisan pieces will also make an appearance in 2016, says Kelly. Look for a rise in partnerships between big-box stores and global artisans to accommodate the increased demand for one-of-a-kind or handmade items. 

Source: Zillow Digs®

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgage Rates Move after Fed Hike

December 18, 2015 2:00 am

Fixed mortgage rates are ticking slightly higher in response to the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise short-term interest rates, but they will remain at historically low levels for some time to come, according to Freddie Mac’s recent Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®).

“As was almost-universally expected, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the Federal Reserve elected this week to raise short-term interest rates for the first time since 2006,” explains Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “We take the Fed at its word that monetary tightening in 2016 will be gradual, and we expect only a modest increase in longer-term rates. Mortgage rates will tick higher but remain at historically low levels in 2016. Home sales will remain strong, but refinance activity should cool somewhat.”

According to Freddie Mac’s survey, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) stands at 3.97 percent with an average 0.6 point; the 15-year FRM averages 3.22 percent with an average 0.5 point. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averages 3.03 percent, with an average 0.4 point, and the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averages 2.67 percent with an average 0.2 point.

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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A Foolproof Plan for Financial Fitness in the New Year

December 17, 2015 2:00 am

Financial fitness is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions—and it’s one you can’t afford to give up on. But rather than set yourself up for failure with an unrealistic resolution, look to create a solid plan that will carry you through the year and beyond, suggests Katherine Forrester Schneewind, financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual.

"It's time to think differently about how to achieve long-term financial fitness," says Schneewind. "Like binge diets, taking a short-term view of your finances often leads to inconsistent results. You can resolve to spend less and save more, but the best way to achieve lasting results is by working with a financial advisor to create a plan that's tailored to your whole financial picture and unique goals."

To develop your plan, Schneewind says, simply remember the acronym PLAN:

Prepare – Start getting your financial house in order today so you can be better prepared to build (and stick to) a plan that will work for you. Consider scaling back your holiday spending by 20 percent to start your financial plan with a bang in the New Year.

Learn – The less we know about money, the more we stress about it. Learn the 50/20/30 approach to your income: 50 percent of your take-home pay should go toward essentials like your mortgage and utilities, 20 percent for investing in your future, and 30 percent for discretionary spending, like vacations, shopping and fun.

Act – It takes, on average, 30 days for a new habit to stick. Establish a daily routine of reviewing your checking account to see how you're performing against your budget. Each day, reflect on one thing you did to help build your financial confidence, like reading a money blog or talking to a friend for advice.

Network – We all know it's easier to stick to an exercise program with a buddy, and the same holds true for your finances. Use the brain trust around you and network your finances with friends. The more you talk about money, the more it can help you increase your overall financial confidence.

Source: Northwestern Mutual

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tips to Improve Your Landscape, Boost Home Value

December 17, 2015 2:00 am

A home’s landscape can have a significant impact on its salability—in fact, over 60 percent of homeowners recently surveyed by Briggs & Stratton Corporation say the landscape, and the lawn in particular, influenced their decision to buy their home. Homeowners included in the survey also believe the condition of their lawn can add or detract from their home’s overall value, though many are unsure which improvements will boost that value.

"In our experience, the discrepancy is a combination of being intimidated by where to begin and the assumption it will be time-consuming," says Carissa Gingras of Briggs & Stratton. "But it doesn't have to be either."

According to Gingras, there are a number of small changes homeowners can make throughout all seasons that can have a big impact.

"Pops of colors from potted plants or evergreens and outdoor lighting are affordable ways to brighten up a yard or monotone exterior in any season," says Gringas. "Maintaining a tidy outdoor space with a clean-cut lawn and clearing away leaves, branches and snow can also vastly improve curb appeal."

Source: Briggs & Stratton

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Housing Set to Expand in 2016

December 17, 2015 2:00 am

Economic headwinds will be offset in the coming year by a tightening labor market and a renewed decline in gasoline prices, according to Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group—a heartening forecast that could bode well for the housing market. The ESR Group expects the economy to grow 2.4 percent in 2016.

“After a year of modest improvement, we continue to believe economic growth will close out 2015 at 2.2 percent before gaining momentum early in 2016,” says Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. “Although consumers have been more cautious in recent months, preferring to save rather than spend, we believe they will pick up their spending pace next year amid solid job gains and resulting growth in incomes. The unsustainable third-quarter inventory investment will likely subtract significantly from economic growth in the current quarter as that stockpile unwinds, but the inventory correction should wrap up early in the year. The trade deficit also continues to weigh on growth, driven by a strong dollar and lackluster overseas growth, but recent housing data support our view that residential investment will help fill the void.

“Home sales will likely remain subdued in the near term, but private residential construction spending started the fourth quarter on a strong note and housing demand is looking up as we head into next year,” continues Duncan. “The rebound in purchase applications suggests that sales will gain momentum in the first quarter after retreating slightly in the current quarter. For all of 2016, total home sales are projected to rise 3.9 percent. We believe that further easing of mortgage lending standards will combine with a positive household formation outlook to help the housing sector expand.”

Source: Fannie Mae

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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A Simple Year-End Money Checklist

December 16, 2015 2:00 am

To ring in the New Year with a measure of fiscal confidence, it’s a good idea to review where you stand at year’s end and resolve to do whatever it takes to improve your financial status by the end of next year. Consumer finance consultant Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation, suggests taking these five steps before you ring out this year:

Review your spending patterns – With credit card statements in front of you, take a good, hard look at your expense patterns over the course of the year. Too many dinners out? Too much impulse spending? Resolve to do a better job of reining in expenses next year.

Know your net worth – Add up what you own (home, car, savings, investments, etc.) and subtract what you owe (mortgage, loans, etc.) Use the number as a personal framework for making financial decisions going forward.

Rethink credit card usage – If your credit cards are causing you to spend too freely, or spend more than you would without them, put them in the very back of your wallet and resolve to cut back on your use of them.

Create an emergency fund – If you haven’t already, start building a fund that will cover 3-6 months’ worth of essential living expenses in the event you lose your job or cannot work. Try paying into that fund first each month, before you pay your other bills.

Be sure you’re on track for retirement – Re-commit to making retirement savings a priority in your financial plan. Do the math, or check with a financial planner, so you know how much you should be putting away in your IRA, 401(k) or other business retirement plan each month, and make adjustments as needed.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Tips to Make Home Maintenance Easier

December 16, 2015 2:00 am

(Family Features)—Some home maintenance jobs require a significant investment of time and specialized equipment, but there are many projects you can accomplish efficiently with basic tools and the right approach. Follow these tips to get started.

Update your toolbox. Take inventory to ensure your collection is complete, and replace damaged or rusted tools. Your toolbox is also a good place to store common repair items such as adhesive.

Get ahead of potential problems. For example, have a plunger on hand to prevent clogged sinks and toilets from causing water damage, and keep gutters and filters clean to prevent structural damage or fire. You can also protect your home and valuables from damage by using adhesive to secure precious items from getting knocked over, and protect floors from traffic damage by securing rugs and felt pads to furniture.

Take a helping hand. Most phones have levels and flashlights that can help with minor jobs, and your phone’s calendar can be set with recurring reminders so that you’ll never miss a maintenance date. In addition, find creative ways to make tasks easier.

Get organized. Daily home maintenance tasks like cleaning are easier when they are done along the way rather than letting them pile up, creating a bigger job. Store everyday needs in each room, or on each floor. For maximum efficiency, keep cleaning supplies in both the bath and the kitchen, and a broom and vacuum on each floor.

Source: GlueDots.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What to Know about Title Insurance

December 16, 2015 2:00 am

Purchasing a home is the single largest investment most will make in their lifetime. That investment is protected by title insurance—the cost of which varies across the country. To determine title insurance policy premium costs in your area, the American Land Title Association (ALTA) recommends consulting with a local title company to get detailed information.

In order to make sure a homeowner has clear rights to a property, the title agent will review prior deeds or mortgages, divorce decrees, court judgments, delinquent taxes and child and spousal support payments, utility or other easements and more. This work is necessary to issue the insurance policy and often includes the cost of conducting a title search, examination, correcting errors, issuing the policy, and, frequently, the settlement or closing for consumers.

When comparing fees, it’s important to get detailed information about what services are included in a fee to help ensure equal comparisons. In some states, the seller pays for the owner’s title insurance policy. Some rates may or may not include other services provided by the title company, such as conducting the closing, preparing and notarizing documents and other services. When comparing one rate to another, be sure to get detailed information on what is included in that rate, so you are comparing equally.

Many choose to rely on their real estate agent or mortgage lender for a recommendation for a title company; however, it is important to remember that you have the right to shop for title insurance and to choose your own title agent or company, says the ALTA. There are many factors to consider when selecting a title insurance company, such as local expertise, service standards, market conduct and commitment to the community.

Source: ALTA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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