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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

How to Keep Your Water Clean

August 18, 2017 1:54 am

We think about keeping our homes clean and our clothes clean, but how often do you stop to consider the cleanliness of your water?

"Lakes, rivers, and streams are significant resources that the U.S. relies on heavily as principal sources of water," says Tommy Webber, owner of T. Webber Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning. "We may use these water sources recreationally, but we take them for granted. Neglect, pollution, and overuse has put the water quality in danger.  

With that in mind, Webber offers residents these tips for cleaning up water.

Use a rain barrel – During the summer months, garden and lawn watering make up about 40 percent of a household's total water consumption. If your state allows it. Webber recommends using rain barrels to collect runoff from rooftops and use that to water lawns and gardens.

Wash the car on the lawn – Several of the soaps and detergents that are used to wash cars contain phosphorus and other nutrients that may be good for the grass, but may not be so good for our water sources. By washing the car on the lawn, the runoff goes into the ground as opposed to storm drains where the harmful chemicals will negatively impact lakes and rivers.

Properly dispose of pollutants – Used motor oil, antifreeze, paint, roof tar, rechargeable batteries, unused fertilizer, unused medication and other similar contaminants can be recycled at the Wheelabrator solid waste plant. This will prevent these dangerous substances from entering the water supply.

Pick up pet waste – One ounce of dog waste contains 23 million microorganisms of disease-causing fecal coliform bacteria. Either flush your pet's droppings or put it in the garbage.

Put trash where it belongs -- Recycle, reuse or put it in the garbage. Plastic does not decompose and can harm many animals and fish as well as pollute the water.

Have the water tested by a professional – Some residents rely on private wells for their water source. Unlike public water systems which are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), private wells are not. Households that use private wells need to take special precautions to ensure the water that enters their home is safe for their families. Homeowners that are concerned about the safety of their water should contact a professional to test the water. Once the water is tested, and any contaminants are identified, the expert can recommend a water treatment system to improve the water quality and provide peace of mind.

Source:T. Webber Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Safely Photograph an Eclipse

August 18, 2017 1:54 am

With August 21 on the horizon, residents across the country are gearing up to witness the first total eclipse since 1979. However, according to The American Academy of Ophthalmology, there is one thing that sets this month's total eclipse apart from others: Smartphones. Millions of ordinary people are expected to use smartphones and digital cameras to photograph this eclipse. Eye care professionals are concerned that first-timers might train their cameras on this phenomenon, unaware of the damage they can do to their eyes.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Optometry teamed up to offer the follow tips on how to safely photograph an eclipse:

Buy a solar filter or modify your eclipse glasses to function as a solar filter for your smartphone. Cut your glasses in half and tape one eyepiece over your smartphone camera lens.

Take the filter off during totality. Totality is when the moon entirely blocks the sun's bright face. The path of totality for the Aug. 21 eclipse stretches from Oregon to South Carolina. Unless you're in the path of totality, keep your solar eclipse glasses on throughout the eclipse.

Use a tripod to keep your camera stable.

Use a remote trigger. With a remote, you can adjust settings and shoot the photo while keeping your camera stable.

Practice. Take photos just after sunset during twilight to get an idea of what the light levels will be like during totality.

Shoot photos of the moon to learn how to manually adjust the focus on your camera. Tap the screen and hold your finger on the image of the moon to lock the focus. Then slide your finger up or down to darken or lighten the exposure.

A telephoto lens system is a must-have for eclipse photography with a smartphone. There are zoom lenses for smartphones designed solely to provide magnification without resorting to digital zoom.

Try the pinhole effect. This eclipse effect is easily captured with point-and-shoot cameras. Use a straw hat or a kitchen sieve and allow the sun's shadow to fall on a piece of white cardboard placed several feet away. The small holes act like pinhole cameras and each one projects its own image of the eclipsed sun.

Make sure you purchase solar eclipse filters and glasses from reputable manufacturers. There have been reports that some companies are selling counterfeit products labeled as if they conform to international safety standards.

Source:  www.aaopt.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgages Are Going to the Dogs

August 17, 2017 1:51 am

A third of millennial-aged Americans (ages 18 to 36) who purchased their first home say the desire to have a better space or yard for a dog influenced their decision, according to a recent survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of SunTrust Mortgage, a division of SunTrust Banks, Inc. Dogs ranked among the top three motivators for first-time home purchasers and were cited by more millennials as reasons for buying a home than marriage/upcoming marriage (25 percent) or the birth/expected birth of a child (19 percent).

Only the desire for more living space (66 percent), and the opportunity to build equity (36 percent), were identified by more millennials as reasons they purchased their first home.

According to Dorinda Smith, SunTrust Mortgage president and CEO, renting can be expensive and stressful for dog owners, making homeownership a better living situation.

Among millennials who have never purchased a home, 42 percent say that their dog – or the desire to have one – is a key factor in their desire to buy a home in the future, suggesting dogs will also influence purchase decisions of potential first-time homebuyers.

SunTrust offers the following tips when considering a first-time home purchase:

Understand your initial expenses. The down payment and closing costs can really add up, but don't forget to budget for moving expenses. These include everything from truck rental to setting up water, power, cable, internet and more.

Organize your finances. While there are different types of loans for different needs, your finances will be thoroughly evaluated during the credit application. Make sure they are organized so you can better retrieve them throughout the application process.

Get pre-qualified. Lenders can use your income and credit history to give you an estimate of the home loan amount for which you qualify. The pre-qualification amount can be a helpful guideline when you are considering which properties to purchase.

Create a realistic timeline. Even with a pre-qualification, loans can take weeks to be finalized. Work with a loan officer to decide the best type of loan for your situation and make sure your loan will be ready in advance of your closing.

For more information about preparing to buy a home, please contact me.

Source: SunTrust Banks, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tips for Millennials Buying Homes

August 17, 2017 1:51 am

Are you, or someone you know, a millennial currently dreaming about your first home? Is something holding you back?According to a survey conducted by loanDepot, 52 percent of Millennials  cite no longer wanting to pay rent and being ready to start a family as two top drivers motivating them to start looking into home ownership. However, according to the survey, half of those are anxious about the expense of real estate and mortgage payments, with only 18 percent saying they think a home purchase is affordable for them.

"It's clear from the survey results that Millennials have a lot of anxiety built up about the home-buying process," says David Norris, loanDepot's Head of Retail Lending. "There is good news, however, as there's more flexibility than most Millennials think regarding how to qualify for a loan and what's needed for a down payment."
Top tips for Millennials from loanDepot lending professionals around the country include:

Know how much is needed for down payment

According to survey results, Millennials are unsure how much down payment they need to put down, with the average coming out to 32 percent. And while the industry standard is typically 20 percent down payment, there are other options.

John Pearson, a loanDepot licensed lending officer based in Hoboken, N.J., says there are many programs for first time homebuyers (FTHB) that allow them to finance a property with 10 percent, 5 percent, or even 3 percent down. There are also loan assistance programs offered by FHA that many don't realize their can qualify for.

"The best advice I have for young buyers is to not believe everything you read on the Internet," Pearson says. "When talking with a professional, you can discuss your specific financial situation and the lending officer can help you determine how much down you'll need and what a monthly mortgage payment will look like. You'll probably discover you don't have to wait until you reach the point of a 20 percent down payment."

Don't be surprised by closing costs

According to Marc Bui, retail lending manager for loanDepot in Newport Beach, Calif., many Millennials he works with don't realize there are costs beyond the down payment required to close.

"When I'm working with today's youngest buyers, I help them plan for all final costs, which can include HOA (homeowners' association) fees, property taxes, private mortgage insurance (PMI) for those putting less than 20 percent down, title, appraisal, etc. It's important to understand everything that goes into closing so there are no unpleasant surprises," Bui says.

Include parents but listen to professionals with an open mind

About 54 percent of Millennials say they plan to ask their parents about how to buy a home, with slightly fewer at 52 percent saying they'd first turn to a mortgage broker or company.

"It's great when young home buyers include their parents in the process," says Scott Nadler, a top 1 percent licensed lending officer in the U.S. and based in loanDepot's Manhattan office. "When young couples come to me wanting to buy their first home, many times I'll suggest a 7- or 10-year adjustable mortgage, which allows them to build equity while having a lower monthly mortgage payment. Many parents are nervous about adjustable mortgages but if someone plans to trade up in a few years, they will be out of the mortgage before the adjustment. My best advice for Millennials is to make sure they feel comfortable with the product they select."

Student loans may not prohibit a home loan

According to the Urban Institute, student loan debt has increased sharply over the last decade and has surpassed credit card debt. This stressor is a top concern for Millennials who are interested in purchasing a home in the near future.

At the end of April, Fannie Mae announced three policy changes designed to help prospective homeowners struggling with student-loan debt. Two changes help borrowers with high student-loan debt qualify for mortgages while the other policy change helps homeowners refinance their home to pay down their student loans.

Debt paid by others: This change widens borrower eligibility to qualify for a home loan by excluding non-mortgage debt, such as credit cards, auto loans, and student loans, paid by someone else, such as parents.

Student Debt Payment Calculation: This change increases the odds that borrowers with student debt will qualify for a loan by allowing lenders to accept student loan payment information on credit reports.

Student loan cash-out refinance: Fannie now offers homeowners the flexibility to pay off a high-interest rate student loan while potentially refinancing to a lower mortgage rate.

"Some lenders have special programs for borrowers with certain types of student loans," says Mary Bane, vice president, regional production for loanDepot in the Chicagoland area. "Medical professionals with student loans that have been deferred for 12 months or longer can avoid having that debt repayment counted as part of their debt. The assumption is that their income will increase dramatically so they will pay off the debt quickly as soon as they are fully employed."

Another potential option is the 40-year mortgage loan program from loanDepot that requires 10 percent down payment and good credit, but has a 10-year interest-only initial repayment period that could help borrowers tackle their student loan debt while they make lower mortgage payments. The following 30 years are fully amortized.

Source: loanDepot

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tips for Tackling a DIY Deck Project

August 17, 2017 1:51 am

(Family Features) While planning a new outdoor living space can be overwhelming, chances are there's a home improvement retailer nearby that offers an abundance of resources to help you tackle virtually any project. If a DIY deck project is on your to-do list, these tips can help you navigate the aisles like a pro.

Do your homework. Get started by perusing retailer websites to learn about their product offerings and services. Then visit manufacturer websites for more information and to compare aesthetics and performance. Research your options and decide what materials and styles make the most sense for your lifestyle and preferences. For instance, if you are looking to spend more time enjoying your deck than maintaining it, you may consider a high-performance composite material, like Trex. Unlike wood, composite decking won't rot, warp, crack or splinter, and resists fading, scratching and mold.

Take advantage of retailer resources. After you've decided on a preferred material, your local big-box retailer can help you obtain additional information, design ideas and product samples. In addition to perusing an array of decking options, you also can preview designer-curated railing pairings. Once you find a combination that suits your outdoor space, you can download the materials list to better guide your in-store experience.

Explore the store. Once you have determined the direction of your project and narrowed down your product preferences, orient yourself with the store landscape so you can navigate the merchandise in an order that correlates with your project. It may be easiest to start with decking materials in the lumber aisle and then move to railings, which can typically be found in an adjacent aisle or on an end-cap display. Pay close attention to signage and look carefully for logos to make sure you're finding the brand you want.

Ask an associate. Don't be afraid to ask for help. The staff at your local retailer can provide tips to help you successfully navigate your project and the store. For instance, if the materials you are looking for aren't on the shelves, many options are available via special order. Typically, an associate can arrange for the product you want to arrive in-store in about 10 days. Most stores also offer assistance with installation.

Source: lowes.trex.com  

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Simple Steps for Cleaning Your Hardwood Floor

August 15, 2017 1:48 am

If you're the proud owner of a hardwood floor, you may be engaged in a constant cleaning battle. Hardwood looks best when it's buff and gleaming, but with a busy schedule, it can be hard to keep the floors sparkling at all times.

Below are a handful of tips for quickly cleaning your wood floors.
Clear the space. This may seem obvious, but it's an often overlooked step in the cleaning process. Clear your furniture (picking it up, not dragging it) so you can access the full plane of your floor.

Vacuum. Use a vacuum to get up surface dirt and pet hair that will interfere with your mopping. If your vacuum has a crevice accessory, put it on and get in the tough to reach spots, like corners and baseboards.

Mop. Going with the grain, mop your floor from wall to wall, including your baseboards. If your floor is sealed with polyurethane, you can use simple dish soap for a little extra cleaning oomph.

Buff. Using a clean cloth or dry mop, buff the floor until it sparkles. Once fully dry, replace the furniture and enjoy.

 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Personal Space: 4 Ways to Add Privacy Inside and Out

August 15, 2017 1:48 am

While a cabin in the woods may not be your thing, there are times when we all crave a little privacy. No matter what your living environs may be, there are several strategies beyond fencing for creating private spaces both inside and outside your home.

Plant a tree wall. While this strategy takes a bit of patience, the payoff is big and permanent. Plant a border of fast-growing evergreen trees - try cypress, arborvitae, juniper or holly - along those perimeters of your yard that are exposed to the street or between you and your too-close neighbor.

Surround your deck or patio. If you’d like a little more privacy when entertaining, plant flowering trees, shrubs or tall grasses around your outdoor gathering space.

Experiment with fabric. Have a great front porch? Try adding breezy drapes that make a great design statement when gathered and drawn, and add romantic privacy when released. You can also section off a secluded area of your porch with an attractive screen.

Screened-in nooks. Screens also work to create private spaces inside your home. Use them to section off a corner of a living room or bedroom and use that space for a small desk, comfy chair or dressing table.

Rethink closet space. Whether it’s a large pantry or a walk-in closet in a bedroom, have it rejiggered to serve as a private workspace instead. Use the shelves to store supplies and add a small desk and chair.

Privacy is possible no matter how small your living space or how close your neighbors may be. Try these ideas and get more inspiration from Pinterest and your favorite home design sites.

If you’re looking for more information on homeownership, please contact me.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Be a Better Listener as a Boss

August 15, 2017 1:48 am

If you're running a business or a team, you likely have a lot on your mind. Is listening one of them?

"A boss has the opportunity to impact an organization and its employees on many levels, and to serve as a primary catalyst for its future growth and success," says Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, author of the book "Becoming the New Boss: The New Leader's Guide to Sustained Success" (Indie Books International, 2017). "While leading is exciting and fulfilling, it can also be challenging."

One of Hoff's largest bits of insight for being a better boss is to become a better listener. Here are eight listening tips for leaders from Hoff's book:

See eye-to-eye. One crucial element of good listening is making strong eye contact. By fixing your eyes on the speaker, you will avoid becoming distracted while also demanding genuine attention. Eye contact is an important element of all face-to-face communication, even if you know the speaker well.

Use receptive body language. Without saying a word, our bodies communicate much about attitudes and feelings. We need to be aware of this in any conversation that we have. If seated, lean slightly forward to communicate attention. Nod or use other gestures or words that will encourage the speaker to continue.

Position yourself wisely. Always be careful to maintain an appropriate distance between you and the speaker. Being too close may communicate pushiness or lack of respect. If you remain distant, however, you may be seen as cold or disinterested. Body postures matter too in most cultures. The crossing of one's arms or legs, for example, often conveys close-mindedness.

Stop talking and start listening. This is a most basic listening principle, and often the hardest to abide by. When somebody else is talking, it can be very tempting to jump in with a question or comment. This is particularly true when we seek to sound informed, insightful, or if we start to feel defensive due to the speaker's criticisms. Be mindful that a pause, even a long one, does not necessarily mean that the speaker has finished. Let the speaker continue in his or her own time; sometimes it takes a few moments to formulate what to say and how to say it.

Humbly take on their point of view. Approach each conversation from the vantage point of the speaker. Seek to empathize and to objectively consider their position, regardless of their rank. Be humble enough to listen carefully, even if you disagree with what is being said.

Summarize and clarify. When the other person has finished talking, take a moment to restate and clarify what you have heard. Use language like, "So, to summarize, I think you said…" End by asking whether you heard correctly, which will encourage immediate feedback. considering the message that was just shared.

Leave the door open. Keep open the possibility of additional communication after this conversation has ended. You never know when new insights or concerns may emerge.

Thank them for approaching you. Do not take any conversation for granted. For many employees, requesting a meeting requires that they summon much courage and rehearse their message time and again. Moreover, you probably learned something useful and meaningful during your talk: information or ideas that may help you as the leader.

Source: http://www.indiebooksintl.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Steps for Picking Bathroom Tiles

August 14, 2017 1:48 am

Looking to redo your bathroom? You're likely already thinking about tiling options. Big, small, colored, clear, glass or ceramic - the choices are endless. To help, we've compiled several tips for choosing a better bathroom tile.

Think about versatility. To truly draw your bathroom together, you will likely want a tile that translates to floor and wall. Visualize the tile in each space to make sure it moves seamlessly.

Size matters. Should you go big or small? There is lots to think about. A small tile will call for more grouting (think, more cleaning mold), but a larger tile tends to be slippier if used on a wet floor or in the shower area. However, a smaller tile is good for fitting in unique spaces, such as a built-in shower shelf or bench.

Going glass? Choose wider. Glass tiles can be finicky, as they can show mold or moisture that may squeeze behind the tile during its lifetime. That said, if going with glass, choose a smaller tile so any upcoming imperfections will be less apparent.

Choose for the clean. Be honest: How often do you wish to clean your bathroom? If you enjoy cleaning and do it frequently, small tiles with lots of crannies will be fine for you. If you prefer to clean less frequently, a wider tile--or even a ceramic or glass panel-- may be better for you.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How a Good Real Estate Agent Can Help You Find the Home You Really Want

August 14, 2017 1:48 am

The internet is an invaluable resource when searching for a home to buy. From a great selection of homes in your price range to tools that allow you to store your favorites and alert you to price drops, listing portals offer an array of benefits.

But when it comes to finding your ideal home, nothing compares to working with an expert real estate agent. Here’s why a professional agent can help you uncover the home that’s right for you:

- A good real estate agent is always networking and may know about homes on the market - or coming soon to the market - that you wouldn’t find online yet.
- Agents are experts in the areas and neighborhoods you’re interested in and will, therefore, be able to tell you aspects about a home that you can’t see online - like the noisy neighbors next door, the musty smell in the basement, or the dead tree that poses an imminent threat to the roof.
- When it comes to price, agents will know the particular circumstances of the seller, including if they need to sell in a hurry and are willing to negotiate on price. A home listed online that you thought was out of your price range, might be affordable after all.
- A good agent will be your eyes and ears. Once they get to know you and your needs and tastes, and understand what you’re really looking for in a home, they’ll be able to alert you right away when there’s a home that’s a perfect match.

So while the internet is a great place to begin your home search, be sure to get some recommendations and enlist a great real estate agent once you’ve narrowed down your choices. Their personal guidance and expertise will be critical in helping you find the perfect home at the right price.

If you’re looking for more real estate information, please contact me.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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