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Stuart Dubbs
4550 W. Tilghman Street
Allentown  PA 18104
 Phone: 610-398-8111
Office Phone: 610-398-8111
Cell: 484-239-0950
Fax: 267-354-6247 
sdubbs@remaxcentralinc.com
Stuart Dubbs

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Real Estate with Perspective

Housing Program Enhancements to Help Struggling Homeowners

December 8, 2014 2:09 am

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury recently announced enhancements to programs under Making Home Affordable (MHA) to better assist struggling homeowners and communities still recovering from the effects of the financial crisis. The enhancements are designed to motivate homeowners in MHA to continue making their mortgage payments on time, strengthen the safety net for those facing continuing financial hardships, and help homeowners in MHA programs build equity in their homes.

"[This] announcement signals our commitment to helping more hardworking families continue the American dream of homeownership," said Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro. "These enhancements will expand the opportunity for more folks to stay in their home, stabilizing local communities and continuing our nation's positive economic momentum."

The Treasury and HUD established HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program®) in 2009 to provide relief to homeowners facing financial hardship. Through a combination of lowered interest rates and modified loan terms, monthly payments are reduced to affordable levels. In addition, many homeowners who remain current following their modification are eligible to earn up to $5,000 over the first five years of their modification, which is applied in repayment of their outstanding principal balance.

Under the revised guidelines, all homeowners in HAMP will now be eligible to earn $5,000 in the sixth year of their modification, which will reduce their outstanding principal balance by as much as $10,000. Homeowners will also be offered an opportunity to re-amortize the reduced mortgage balance, which will have the effect of lowering their monthly payment. Currently, approximately one million homeowners with HAMP modifications are eligible to earn the increased HAMP incentive.

In addition, in an effort to bolster the safety net for homeowners who face difficulty making their payments in HAMP Tier 1 or similar non-HAMP modifications, Treasury and HUD have introduced enhancements to HAMP Tier 2 and the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives® (HAFA) Program.

HAMP Tier 2 is an alternative modification that provides a low fixed rate for the life of the loan to homeowners who do not qualify for or cannot sustain a HAMP Tier 1 modification. The enhancements include reducing the interest rate for HAMP Tier 2 by 50 basis points, which will enable more homeowners to qualify for a modification, and extending the $5,000 pay-for-performance incentive to HAMP Tier 2 borrowers in good standing at the end of the sixth year of their modification.

HAFA assists homeowners who need to transition to a more affordable living situation through a short sale or deed-in-lieu. Treasury and HUD also announced that they have increased the amount of relocation assistance provided to homeowners to $10,000 to better reflect increased rents and the cost of moving in many parts of the country.

If you are a homeowner in need of mortgage assistance, please visit MakingHomeAffordable.gov to explore all options available to help you avoid foreclosure.

Source: HUD.gov

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tips to Keep Household Tools in Tip-top Shape

December 8, 2014 2:09 am

(BPT) - From painting supplies to gardening and handheld tools, buying well-made home improvement tools can have an impact on project results. The tools you use may be an investment, so you'll want to take care of them to ensure they last for more than just one project.

Painting tools – Painting is the easiest and most cost-effective way to transform a space or revive an outdated piece of furniture. It's important to clean paint brushes and reusable rollers immediately after use. A mixture of warm water and mild soap suds is the best cleaning solution for latex- or water-based paints. When cleaning oil-based paints, varnishes, lacquers and shellacs, closely follow the manufacturer's instructions to select the proper cleaning solvent, such as paint thinner or denatured alcohol. Consider using one set of synthetic brushes or rollers for oil-based products and another set for latex products.

Avoid soaking paint brushes in solvent or water as this can damage the bristles. A paint brush comb is an easy way to keep your brushes in tip-top shape after cleaning. For best results, comb both the edge and center of the brush to prevent paint buildup during use and extend the life of any brush.

It's also important to hang brushes when storing them; never store a paint brush on its tip, which can result in "curling." After washing used roller covers, string them on rope or dowels to aid in drying. To ensure a nice, smooth finish the next time you have to paint, don't stand the paint roller on its end or lay it down.

Gardening tools – After a day spent doing yard work, it's important to clean off any shovels, hoes or rakes. Moist soil on metal surfaces can result in rust, so hose off tools and towel dry them after each use. Use a wire brush or wire-steel pad attached to a power drill to remove rust or other debris from metal tool parts. Make the most of your storage space or garage and hang garden tools by their handles to prevent damage and avoid clutter.

Store smaller garden tools like shears, trowels and soil scoops in a sand-filled trough. Fill a 13-inch by 15-inch plastic or galvanized container with sand to within an inch of the top, pour in 1/4 cup of motor oil and stir. Place the tools in the sand with the handles out. The sand helps the tools stay clean and sharp while the oil prevents any rust buildup. Keep the container in your garage or shed to avoid the elements.

Handheld workshop tools - Quality hammers, screw drivers, cordless drills and the like can be costly. Given enough time, rust will damage metal permanently. For rust removal on handheld tools and corroded nuts and bolts, soak them in vinegar for a few days and rinse with warm water. Another way to remove rust is to gently scrape the tool with a wire brush.

When cleaning power tools, wear heavy duty gloves and disconnect all power cords. With a toothbrush, clean around any switches that may interfere with the proper operation of the machine. If you are cleaning a chainsaw, jigsaw or similar power tool, use an air compressor to blow out any sawdust that's collected within the crevices.

A little extra time spent cleaning and storing tools after a home improvement project can keep them looking and working their best. Protect your tool investments and be the ultimate weekend warrior with proper storage and organization.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The 3 Ps of Holiday Decorating

December 8, 2014 2:09 am

'Tis the season to transform family living spaces with holiday lights, trees, candles, poinsettias and more. To help minimize the risks from accidents associated with this cherished time of year, keep in mind the “3 Ps of holiday decorating,” recommended by the Hanover Insurance Group – prepare, prevent and protect.

Prepare
  • First and foremost, be sure you have working smoke alarms on every level of your home. Ideally the alarms should be interconnected so when one sounds, they all sound.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby so you are prepared for a quick response to potential sparks or flames from lights, candles and fireplaces.
  • Establish a home fire escape drill that includes two ways out of every room and an outside meeting place.
Prevent
  • Use caution when climbing on ladders to hang lights and decorations. Thousands of people are treated at emergency rooms each year for falls associated with holiday decorating. Be sure someone else is home to assist if something goes wrong.
  • Do not connect more than three light strands together. Turn off all holiday lights and decorations when you are not home or when you are asleep. One in three Christmas tree fires is due to an electrical failure.
  • If you are lighting candles, and especially candles that must burn continuously, such as a menorah, place them on a tall, sturdy surface like a kitchen counter with a piece of aluminum foil underneath to catch wax drippings or a falling candle. If you must leave a candle unattended, consider placing it in a kitchen sink to minimize risks. Candle fires cause 45 percent of holiday decoration fires.
  • Be careful where you place your Christmas tree. One in six tree fires are started when a tree is too close to a heat source. Also, make sure your tree does not block an exit.
  • Be sure to use non-flammable or flame resistant decorations.
Protect
  • Check with your independent insurance agent to ensure your home is adequately covered in the event of a loss. Most experts recommend a policy with a guaranteed replacement cost provision so you can rebuild to the same quality, regardless of rising material or labor costs.
  • Some insurance policies cover the cost to recharge or replace a fire extinguisher used to fight a fire in a covered home, with no deductible. This is helpful if you have used your fire extinguisher and want to be sure it is still fully charged.
  • Consider an umbrella policy if you plan to host holiday parties in your festively decorated home. Umbrella policies may extend your policy's liability limits, generally by $1 million to $5 million, in the event you are sued by a guest.
"Holiday decorating is one of the best ways to create a festive atmosphere," said Richard W. Lavey, president, Personal Lines at Hanover. "However, some holiday decorations and the task of decorating a home can pose risks and lead to losses and injuries. Fortunately, if you prepare, prevent and protect, you will be more likely to safely enjoy the season in peace."

Source: Hanover Insurance Group

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Holiday Goods You Can Buy at a Thrift Store

December 5, 2014 2:06 am

It’s the time of year when we begin to worry about how much we can spend for the holidays. But good ideas from enterprising shoppers can help us bring smiles to family and friends while staying in control of the cost.

Savings.com editor Susan Yoo-Lee, whose Mommas in the House blog seeks to help Moms find where the bargains are, suggests five holiday costs you can keep way down by shopping at the local thrift store:

China, flatware, and glasses – These days, mixing patterns is not only acceptable, it’s chic. So if you need more pieces for your holiday table, check the thrift store first. You may also find that extra platter or the soup tureen you’ve always wanted.

Holiday décor – When it comes to Christmas and Hannukkah decorations, you can’t beat thrift store prices. You may find ornaments in their original packing at less than a third of original prices – as well as stockings, menorahs, and even centerpieces that need only minor refreshing.

Gifts – If you need a gift for someone who has everything, you may find answers in the thrift shop. For collectors or hobbyists, you can pick up vintage jewelry, old vinyl records, comic books, and charming little knick-knacks. Browse the aisles with an open mind and you may be surprised at what you find.

Clothing – Whether you’re looking for ugly holiday sweaters or an old-fashioned slip to wear under that new silk dress, check the thrift store for holiday duds for every member of the family. There may be no better buy than that little velveteen dress that was worn only once and outgrown.

Extra furniture – If you need extra holiday seating or a night table for the guest room, think thrift shop first. You can find great prices on vintage pieces as well as newer models still in good condition.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Three Ways to Boost Home Air Quality

December 5, 2014 2:06 am

Because most Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, the air in their home is a significant component to their overall health and wellbeing. Occasionally, indoor pollutants can accumulate to levels that pose health and comfort issues when too little outdoor air enters a home. These pollutants may include mold, bacteria, tobacco smoke, pesticides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), radon, various allergens, elevated levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, and other potentially hazardous substances.

One approach to lowering the concentration of indoor air pollutants in a home is to increase the amount of outdoor air coming in. Outdoor air enters and leaves a house by infiltration, natural ventilation and mechanical ventilation.

With infiltration, outdoor air flows into the house through openings, joints and cracks in walls, floors and ceilings, as well as around windows and doors. Air may also move out of the house in this manner and this is known as exfiltration.

During natural ventilation, air moves through opened windows and doors. Air movement associated with infiltration and natural ventilation is caused by air temperature differences between indoors and outdoors and by the wind.

Finally, there are a number of mechanical ventilation devices, from exhaust fans that remove air from a single room, such as bathrooms and kitchens, to air handling systems that use fans and duct work to continuously remove indoor air and distribute filtered and conditioned outdoor air throughout the house. The rate at which outdoor air replaces indoor air is described as the air exchange rate. When there is little infiltration, natural ventilation, or mechanical ventilation, the air exchange rate is low and pollutant levels can rise.

Source: EMSL

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Five Must-Haves for a Smarter Home

December 5, 2014 2:06 am

Consumer excitement about the smart home has reached epic heights, with hundreds of new devices on the market that monitor, notify, control and secure the home. According to Parks Associates, mobile ubiquity, technology innovation and industry standards and partnerships have contributed to more than 13 million U.S. households now owning a connected device. Based on CNET observations, this number is set to increase threefold over the next three years to an estimated 45 million smart homes by 2018.

With connected products available to even the least tech-savvy consumers for as little as $50, there’s no better time than now to create a smarter home. Here are five ways to do it.

1. Automate your light switches. One of the easiest and most affordable places to start automating your home is with the lights. Chamberlain and other companies let you appear home when you're not by setting schedules that turn lights on and off at select or random times. These products are sold at most home improvement and electronics stores such as Home Depot, Lowe's, Best Buy and online for about $49.99.

2. Control the garage door. According to the Door & Access Systems Manufacturers Association, an estimated 71 percent of U.S. households use their garage as the main entry point to their homes. Automating the garage door allows homeowners to monitor and control the most active door of the house from anywhere in the world. Smartphone alerts let you know when the garage is in use or left open, and give you access to opening it any time to for guests, deliveries or workers.

3. Install smart locks. With connected door locks, a mere touch of your finger locks or unlocks the front door, providing alerts every step of the way. You can also allow access to others through their smartphones and turn off access at any time. Smart locks begin at about $200 and are available at Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe's, and other stores.

4. View your home with video.
A connected home video camera can help by streaming live video to your smartphone once movement is detected in or around the home, and video is accessible with a cloud storage option. These products start at about $150.

5. Save money and energy through temperature control. Installing a connected thermostat can save you up to 20 percent on your heating bill throughout the year. Smart thermostats allow you to adjust the temperature based on your comings and goings from anywhere—turn up the heat in your house just before returning from a trip, or switch your setting to vacation mode if you forgot to do so before leaving. These devices sell for about $250 from various online, electronics and home improvement retailers.

Source: Chamberlain

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Give Wisely This Holiday Season

December 4, 2014 12:03 am

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance (BBB WGA) and Better Business Bureaus across North America caution philanthropists about phony donation solicitations this season, recommending careful review of organizations before making a donation.

Ensure your donations will be applied ethically by following these tips:
  • Rely on rigorous evaluations. Charities can demonstrate they are trustworthy by undergoing a rigorous evaluation based on holistic standards, such as the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.
  • Watch out for copycats. Since there may be hundreds of charities seeking support for the same cause, some may have similar sounding names. Don't fall for a case of mistaken identity.
  • Consider the whole picture, not just finances. While financial ratios help in identifying cases of financial abuse, it's a mistake to use them as the sole basis for giving. A good ratio does not necessarily mean a charity is well managed, honest in its appeals, transparent about its activities, and effective in achieving its mission.
  • Avoid being pressured. Don't succumb to pressure to make an on-the-spot giving decision. Responsible organizations will welcome your gift tomorrow just as much as today.
  • Keep emotions in check. Donors need to be mindful that con artists will often strike when emotions are running high. Always take a moment to verify that your selected charity operates ethically.
Source: BBB

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Most Adults in the Dark on Down Payment Assistance

December 4, 2014 12:03 am

A recent survey found that 70 percent of U.S. Adults are unaware of down-payment assistance programs available for homebuyers in their community, bearing out increasing concerns over the complexities of the housing process. NeighborWorks America, a national nonprofit community development corporation who commissioned the survey, is one of many assistance programs designed to help buyers achieve homeownership status.

"Down-payment assistance programs make home purchasing more accessible for first-time buyers," said Marietta Rodriguez, vice president of Homeownership Programs and Lending at NeighborWorks America. "In addition, because many down-payment assistance programs require homebuyer education, these purchasers tend to be more successful in the long term. Research has shown pre-purchase counseling helps reduce mortgage default and equips homeowners with the information they need to budget for other expenses and maintain their property."

Down payment assistance is especially helpful for homebuyers who are unsure about affordability because of student loan debt. Resources like NeighborWorks America and other housing programs are readily available for adults interested in purchasing a home.

Source: NeighborWorks America

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Prevent Landscape Damage from Deer this Winter

December 4, 2014 12:03 am

(BPT) – Cold weather signifies mating season for deer, and numerous insurance industry and government studies indicate that during this time, deer become more active, aggressive and a greater threat to suburban landscapes.

Eliminating deer from suburban settings is no easy task, since accessible, nutritious food found in yards sustains urbanized deer. As cold weather approaches, here’s what you need to know about deer, how they can adversely affect your home and yard and what you can do to protect your landscape:
  • Deer are smarter than many people give them credit for. They quickly learn where to find easy food sources when the weather gets cold. "Unless deer are given a reason to change their browsing trail, they will continue to visit your yard," says Nora Kwochka of Bobbex, a leading manufacturer of proven effective, natural deer repellants.
  • In cold weather, food is harder to find, and deer become much bolder, looking for food closer to your backyard. Deer can eat up to 10 pounds of food a day - half a ton over their lifetime – and their foraging can cause significant damage to trees, shrubs and garden beds.
  • Deer move freely through suburban landscapes when temperatures drop because they have no natural predators - other than humans - in suburbia. In the wild, predators serve as natural population control for deer, but such predators are rare or non-existent in suburban areas.
  • While fences can be a sure way to keep deer out of your yard, you probably can’t build one tall enough. Deer can jump as high as 8 feet, and many municipalities and homeowners associations limit suburban fence height to 5 or 6 feet.
  • When it comes to deterring deer, fencing, chemicals and devices don't always work. Most homeowners associations and municipalities prohibit building a fence higher than 5 or 6 feet, and most deer can jump as high as 8 feet. Natural deterrents in the form of topical sprays are much more effective, and are safe to use for even the most sensitive plants. In addition, natural deterrents won’t wash off after heavy rain or snow.
As cold temperatures arrive and more deer activity occurs, it’s important to protect your yard and home from foraging deer. Armed with knowledge and the right repellent, you’ll be able to enjoy your landscape without worrying about deer damage.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What's Your Kitchen Style?

December 3, 2014 12:03 am

(Family Features) With a multitude of design options available for kitchens, which style would you choose for your home?

Aside from aesthetics, homeowners must consider the kitchen’s compatibility with the design of the rest of the home, and factors such as durability and functionality. Often viewed as features that anchor the space, kitchen cabinets are a good place to start when determining your kitchen’s overall style:

Traditional – Traditional rooms are distinguished by their details. Classic kitchen cabinets contain embellishments such as corbels, moldings and raised panels. One advantage to a traditionally-styled kitchen is the freedom to mix design elements.

Contemporary – Contemporary spaces are characterized by distinctive hard, sleek, horizontal lines. A full overlay slab door cabinet is typically the norm for these types of kitchens. There may be horizontal wood grains to match up with the linear quality of the room, but visually, the wood grain comes off as textured.

Transitional – Transitional design pulls together the warmth of traditional with the crispness of contemporary. Stained, shaker-style cabinets are popular because they combine the best of both worlds, suiting a range of homes.

Casual – Comfort is the name of the game for casually-styled kitchens. Coastal (driftwood or white washed cabinets) or country (natural or stained cabinets) designs make for a beautiful, laid-back look.

Whether your preferences fit perfectly into one category or a combination of several, the goal of creating your special kitchen space is to listen to what style speaks to you.

Source: Wellborn Cabinets, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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