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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

Homeowner Guides: Metal Roofs Eligible for Tax Break

April 19, 2016 1:51 am

Metal roofing has many advantages when it comes to energy efficiency—including a recently-added $500 credit for homeowners. Those who are planning to install a metal roof atop their primary residence in 2016, or installed one in 2015, can capitalize on the tax break.

“Consumers are making informed environmental choices for everything from the car they drive to the clothes they wear. The roof you choose should also be evaluated for its sustainability. This new tax credit makes the decision even easier,” says Dick Bus, president of the Metal Roofing Alliance. “A metal roof is a long-term solution that increases the value of your home while reducing its environmental impact and lowering energy bills.”

Metal roofs feature highly reflective coatings that provide year-round relief from high energy costs, absorbing less heat than other types of roofing. They are available in a variety of materials and styles, including tiles, shakes, shingles, and standing-seam panels.

Certain limitations apply to the metal roof tax credit. If you’re planning to install a metal roof on your home, ask your contractor to provide a copy of the Manufacturer Certification Statement for the product. This is a signed statement from the manufacturer certifying that the metal roof qualifies for the tax credit. You'll need it when you file your taxes, along with IRS Form 5695.

As always, be sure to consult with a qualified tax professional for the most up-to-date qualifying information.

Source: Metal Roofing Alliance

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Planning an Outdoor Makeover? 15 Popular Upgrades

April 19, 2016 1:51 am

Signs of spring (and summer!) are cropping up everywhere, and for homeowners, that means readying outdoor spaces for the season. Some, according to a Houzz.com report, are planning to renovate, as well.

“Nearly half of outdoor renovators spend six or more hours a week in their yards, motivating them to invest in major features that transform the outdoors into additional living spaces,” says Nino Sitchinava, principal economist at Houzz.

Are you planning to renovate your outdoor space this year? Consider some common upgrades, suggests Sitchinava.

“Hardy plants, LED or solar lighting, and hardscapes in place of lawns are some of the popular low-maintenance choices. Some homeowners are also installing motion-sensitive lighting and precipitation-sensitive irrigation to minimize routine upkeep,” Sitchinava says.

According to the Houzz report, other oft-chosen updates include:

• Additional Space for Children/Pets
• Edible Plants
• Exploratory Paths
• Fencing
• Hammocks
• Play/Climbing Structure
• Rainwater Harvesting System
• Toxin-Free Plants
• Trampoline

Timing will factor significantly into your project decision. The Houzz report shows the deterioration of outdoor elements is the top trigger for an upgrade, so if you have an outdoor feature in need of some TLC, now may be the time to invest in repairs or a replacement.

As far as cost is concerned, many outdoor projects are on the (relatively) low-end of the scale. Most homeowners, according the Houzz report, spend less than $5,000 on a project. To maximize the budget, many turn to the services of a landscape architect, contractor or designer.

Source: Houzz

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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8 Banking Tips for Millennials

April 18, 2016 1:48 am

Nearly half of millennials feel “chronically stressed” about money—with good reason. But a strong financial footing, says Rob Nichols, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association (ABA), is not as difficult to come by as some may perceive.

“Millennials are digital natives who understand the importance of staying connected socially, but staying connected to their bank can help their finances as they encounter life’s many milestones,” Nichols explains. “From enhanced mobile resources to free budgeting tools, banks offer a variety of products and services to complement millennials’ unique lifestyles and ease their worries as they prepare to make some of life’s biggest financial decisions.”

Your bank, says Nichols, can be a valuable partner in your financial journey. To make the most of that partnership—and see benefits as a result—Nichols suggests the following tips:

1. Cyber-shop for a bank that fits your style. There are lots of options out there with different advantages. Be selective and get the best prices, services, convenient locations and lowest fees for credit cards, bank accounts and loans.

2. Use your bank’s tools to save without thinking about it. Consider automatic payroll deductions or automatic transfer from checking to savings. Arrange to have a specific amount transferred to your savings account every pay period.

3. Download your bank's mobile app. Manage your finances from the palm of your hand. With the click of a button, you can easily make a deposit or access a record of all your recent transactions. Be sure to download the latest updates when they are available.

4. Sign up for email or text alerts. Get up-to-date info, on the go, the way you want it. Ask for an automatic alert when your balance falls below a certain level, or to confirm when certain types of transactions occur, such as online purchases or transactions of more than $500.

5. Use the personal finance tools your bank may offer. Banks offer an array of budgeting tools and resources to help you keep your finances in check. Access these via your bank’s mobile app and website.

6. Expect the unexpected. The last thing you want to be is stressed when life’s unexpected expenditures come knocking at your door. Set up a secondary checking or savings account for emergencies, or link an existing account to your main account as an added layer of protection.

7. Get a head start. Banks play a major role in helping customers prepare for life events, such as buying a house and planning for retirement. Ask your banker how you can establish credit or start a retirement account.

8. Stay connected with social media. Interact with your bank via social media to get the latest news on products and services, ask bank-related questions, join in on conversations and find links to exclusive bank content. 

Source: ABA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Home, Hearth and More: 5 Trends to Watch

April 18, 2016 1:48 am

We’ve found that one of the best ways to tap into the most current trends for the home is to check into trade shows, where massive numbers of industry professionals show off the latest and greatest.

Earlier this year, more than 7,500 manufacturers and retailers flocked to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s (HPBA) HPBExpo 2016 to showcase innovations in home heating and indoor-outdoor living.

The expo’s top trends included:

Improved Biomass-Burning Products – New mandates for wood-burning and pellet products will affect how manufacturers design products to meet more stringent emission standards. HPBA anticipates this trend toward reduced emissions and increased efficiency to accelerate through this year and beyond.

Integrated Smart Technology – As the world embraces smartphone apps, more hearth and barbecue products are becoming smart-enabled. From fireplace temperature controls to grills and propane tank monitoring systems, app-friendly products will abound this year, giving homeowners control at the push of a button.

Linear Fireplaces – Linear fireplaces continue to interest homeowners with their sleek, modern design. Available in sizes up to 12-feet wide, with high heat-tolerant glass and no-trim options, as well as electric models with multicolored, realistic flames, linear fireplaces are being sought by homeowners seeking a sophisticated, contemporary style.

Specialized Accessories – Specialized accessories are set to surge this year, as homeowners look for new ways to barbecue. According to recent HPBA research, pizza stones, fish/broiling baskets, cedar planks, rotisseries and grill woks are among the top accessories.

Upgraded Outdoor Kitchens – Today, 10 percent of grill owners have an outdoor kitchen, featuring primarily premium grills, furniture, lighting and outdoor fireplaces and/or fire pits. Of these outdoor kitchen owners, 35 percent are likely to upgrade in the next three years. Amenities such as storage spaces, refrigerators, dishwashers, built-in sinks, bottle rails, cocktail bars, seating options and food preparation areas, as well as entertainment features like televisions and surround sound, are among the products HPBA expects to gain prominence.

In future segments, we'll explore each of these trends, including taking a look at all the latest products, services and inspirations coming out of HPBExpo 2016. 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Home on the Market? Craftsman-Style Features Are High Selling Points

April 18, 2016 1:48 am

Why do some seemingly similar homes sell at different price points? Keywords in the home’s listing description, for one.

According to a Zillow Digs® analysis, homes with listing descriptions that include the words “barn door,” “shaker cabinets,” or “subway tiles” sold faster (and for significantly more!) than anticipated.

Of the 60 keywordsubway tile s assessed, descriptions that included “barn doors” saw the highest sale premium: 13 percent above what was expected. Other common craftsman-style keywords, like “farmhouse sink,” were also found in top-performing listing descriptions.

“When it comes to real estate listing descriptions, words matter,” says Dr. Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow. “Your listing description is an opportunity to highlight specific details and finishes that might not be visible in photos. Craftsman-style homes and amenities resonate incredibly well with today's buyers, so if you've got them, flaunt them!”

Understanding what’s popular among buyers can also help those considering a remodel. Drawing an example from the analysis, descriptions mentioning “hardwood floors” sold for 2 percent more than expected; descriptions touting “new carpets” had no effect on the sale price. While everyone’s preferences differ, a home with hardwood floors may be more likely to attract buyers in the future.

The full Zillow Digs analysis:

1. “Barn Doors” – Sold for 13.4 percent higher and 57 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Phoenix, Ariz.

2. “Shaker Cabinets” – Sold for 9.6 percent higher and 45 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Los Angeles, Calif.

3. “Farmhouse Sink” – Sold for 7.9 percent higher and 58 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Los Angeles, Calif.

4. “Subway Tile” – Sold for 6.9 percent higher and 63 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Philadelphia, Pa.

5. “Quartz” – Sold for 6.0 percent higher and 50 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Los Angeles, Calif.

6. “Craftsman” – Sold for 5.4 percent higher and 14 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Seattle, Wash.

7. “Exposed Brick” – Sold for 4.9 percent higher and 36 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in New York, N.Y.

8. “Pendant Light” – Sold for 4.6 percent higher and 48 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Phoenix, Ariz.

9. “Frameless Shower” – Sold for 4.6 percent higher and 38 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Dallas, Texas

10. “Heated Floors” – Sold for 4.3 percent higher and 28 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Seattle, Wash.

11. “Stainless Steel” – Sold for 4.2 percent higher and 42 day sooner than expected; most commonly found in Chicago, Ill.

12. “Granite” - Sold for 4.1 percent higher and 38 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Dallas, Texas

13. “Backsplash” - Sold for 4.1 percent higher and 46 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Philadelphia, Pa.

14. “Tankless Water Heater” - Sold for 4.0 percent higher and 43 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Los Angeles, Calif.

15. “Outdoor Kitchen” – Sold for 3.7 percent higher and 19 days sooner than expected; most commonly found in Tampa, Fla.

Source: Zillow Digs®

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Internet and You: The Perils of Unwanted Software

April 15, 2016 1:33 am

Unwanted software—downloaded unknowingly—affects tens of millions of computers at any given moment. Some users can have as much as four unwanted software installs with one action!

“When you download free software, it might come with an unexpected addition: hidden programs that can cause problems on your computer, ranging from the merely annoying to truly dangerous,” says John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud for the National Consumers League (NCL) (Fraud.org).

Unwanted software imposes a range of costs on users affected by it: it can slow computers to a crawl, prompt users to spend money on expensive computer support services, and raise the risk of identity fraud, jeopardizing credit and employment opportunities for users.

“While unwanted software can appear to simply be an annoyance that detracts from the experience of using a browser, these dangerous downloads pose a significant security risk to consumers’ personal information,” says Breyault. “Some software will disable security protections and settings in order to take control of a consumer’s computer, leaving that computer vulnerable to hackers and data thieves.”

To avoid the consequences of unwanted software, Breyault and the NCL advise users to:

• Obtain software directly from the source. When you’re looking for a new program, look on the publisher’s website first. Software download repositories may bundle in unwanted software with legitimate downloads.

• Avoid clicking on pop-ups or banner ads that warn you of slow performance on your computer. This is often a ruse to lead you to websites that host unwanted software.

• Make sure everything is up-to-date. To best protect yourself, repeatedly update your browser and operating systems; older systems are more susceptible to being infected by malware. Be sure to check for computer and browser updates in computer settings. Ads claiming that your computer software is out-of-date will likely lead to more unwanted software.

• Routinely scan your computer. Use antivirus software to regularly scan your computer for programs that you don’t recognize.

• Pay attention when installing new software. When downloading programs and extensions, pay attention to the fine print. Be on the look-out for pre-checked boxes that offer to install toolbars or other software in addition to the software you wanted.

• Heed your browser’s warnings. Most major Web browsers now have functionality built-in that will warn you when you are about to enter an unsafe website. Chances are that if your browser is telling you not to visit a certain website or download a particular program, you’re better off steering clear.

For more guidance, visit www.fraud.org/unwanted_software.

Source: NCL

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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6 Kitchen Splurges Worth the Price

April 15, 2016 1:33 am

A kitchen remodel can be expensive, and homeowners are justifiably careful about staying within budget. However, there are certain areas in every kitchen where a splurge may be worth the price in terms of efficiency, looks, and durability.

HGTV suggests six areas where a few lavish touches are worth the extra expense:

1. Commercial-Grade Range Hood - Investing in a commercial-style range hood means never having to deal with cooking odors—and keeping a busy kitchen cooler.

2. High-Quality Hardware – Look for quality cabinet knobs, hinges and pulls in brushed nickel, bronze or stainless steel. They add class to any kitchen and will last longer than those made of plastic or wood. For the ultimate in opulence, spring for hand-blown glass.

3. Soft-Close Doors and Drawers – You can’t slam these quiet drawers or doors, which makes for a more serene kitchen. They are also great for young families because they close slowly, so little hands and fingers won't get caught or pinched in them. 

4. Solid Surface Countertop – Laminate is cheap, but it doesn’t stand up and looks tired long before its time. Splurge on granite or sealed concrete, which will look beautiful and last for many years. (Bonus: It’s a great selling feature!)

5. Stainless Steel Appliances – These are worth the added expense because they are stylish, sophisticated and efficient. The newest models offer greater versatility than more traditional models.

6. Warming Drawer – Look for an oven that comes with a warming drawer, or have one custom-built into your kitchen. They are ideal for entertaining, keeping food at just the right temperature for late guests.

Lastly—and most importantly—invest in a professional. An experienced kitchen designer can help ensure you get the kitchen of your dreams without the guesswork or stress.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Security Tips for Apartment, Condo Residents

April 15, 2016 1:33 am

Apartment and condominium communities have some safety advantages over single-family homes, but they’re susceptible to security breaches like any other residence. Owners and/or renters should keep these safety tips top of mind, recommends Steve Kolobaric, spokesperson for security solution provider Weiser Lock.

1. Be on Alert – Be mindful of others, even when you’re inside the building or unit. Pay special attention when walking in stairwells, meet your neighbors, and know the general layout of the complex.

2. Lock, Lock, Lock – It seems like a common-sense action, but many (with a false sense of security) neglect to lock their doors. The majority of burglars gain entry into a home through an unlocked door. Don’t hide a key outside of your home, either—thieves know where to look!

3. Update Locksets – Did you change your front door lockset when you moved in? Not only could the past owner still have copies of the key, but so could his or her friends or your neighbors. Changing your lockset takes about 20 minutes—a small investment of time for peace of mind.

4. Note Concerns – Notify the property manager about any burned-out lights in the common areas, such as the lobby, parking garage or hallways. If anything seems out of the ordinary, such as open or broken windows or malfunctioning doors or locks, alert the manager immediately.

5. Deny Entry – If the front entrance to your apartment or condo requires a key pass, don’t hold the door for the person behind you. It may feel impolite, but the person may not be a resident or tenant—and if it is a neighbor, they will appreciate your preventative measure.

Source: Weiser Lock

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Ways to Keep Debt at Bay with Your Tax Refund

April 14, 2016 1:33 am

Many financial institutions observe reduced loan balances and lower credit card late fees in the second quarter of each year, coinciding with tax season and suggesting that many use their tax refunds to pay down debt.

“Paying down debt can undoubtedly be one of the best ways to put a tax refund to good use,” says Nick Bryan, executive vice president of OpenSky, a provider of resources and tools that help consumers build credit. “This not only saves on interest payments, but also can improve credit, since the ratio of debt-to-credit impacts credit scores.

“However, if someone has a no- or low-interest rate, paying off credit card or long-term debt may not be urgent,” Bryan says. “It makes sense to do the numbers—you aren't losing money to let zero interest debt stay where it is for a while.”

Bryan notes there are ways to turn refund money into a safeguard against possible future debt, rather than pay down existing debt. It may make sense to put a refund toward a "life happens" savings account for emergencies, such as car repairs or medical bills. Making necessary home repairs and upgrades is also a wise use of refund dollars—homeownership is an investment, and protecting that investment will pay off when the house sells for top dollar.

Tax refunds may also be used to help build (or rebuild) credit, Bryan adds. Using a portion of the refund as a security deposit to get a secured credit card can have a positive impact on credit history.

Taxpayers have until April 18 this year to file their 2015 returns, as well as pay any tax due.

Source: OpenSky

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Sellers: Remember These Tips for a Safe Showing

April 14, 2016 1:33 am

Selling your home can be exciting, but unfortunately, it can also heighten the risk of crime when showing the home.

A recent blog from realtor.com® outlined the following points to remember—all of which will be practiced by your real estate agent.

• Schedule an appointment for showings.
• Keep records of every guest's identity.
• Watch for unexpected guests.
• Do not show your house without your real estate agent, or if you are otherwise alone.

Most importantly, the blog advised: trust your instincts. Instinct is generally the best self-protection tool. If a visitor makes you feel uncomfortable, be alert. Warning signs include:

• He or she spends too much time in one room, checking windows, doors or even security devices;

• A couple separates during the showing (Professional burglars usually have one person talking to the agent or seller as a distraction, while the other wanders around, planning an act);

• He or she asks questions in an effort to make you reveal habits or schedules, such as what time everybody goes to work and/or school, what you do on the weekend, etc.

After the showing, be sure to lock your doors and windows—a recent article noted one case in which a rogue visitor unlocked a window at an open house and returned later to burglarize the property. 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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