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Tim Lugara

Tim Lugara
423 North Main Street  Doylestown  PA 18901
Phone:  215-348-7100 1632
Office:  215-348-7100
Toll Free:  800-360-7100
Cell:  215-917-8673
Fax:  267-354-6961

Tim's Blog

Full Steam Ahead for U.S. Economy

January 20, 2015 4:45 am

Lower oil and gasoline prices are adding fuel to America’s economy, according to a recent report by TD Economics. The economy is expected to grow by 3 percent in 2015. With faster growth, experts anticipate the unemployment rate falling to 5.5 percent by the end of the year.

"The fall in energy prices could hardly have come at a better time, said TD Chief Economist Craig Alexander. Just as the job market is hitting its stride and wages are moving up, energy prices are falling, reducing inflation and leaving more money in consumers' pockets."

Since September, oil and gasoline prices have fallen more than 40 percent, and American consumers are the clear beneficiaries. "While falling prices will slow growth in oil-producing regions of the country, the average American household will save over $500 on gasoline over the next year," said Alexander. "Money that is not funneled into gas tanks will be used on other goods and services, providing an important lift to consumer spending."

The improvement on the job front should mean higher interest rates. However, this is balance against an inflation outlook that has becoming increasingly benign over the next year. Rising job openings, falling unemployment, and rising wages are all signs that, as the temporary impact of decreasing energy prices falls out, inflation will move toward the Fed's target.

Source: TD Economics

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Busting First-Time Homebuyer Myths

January 19, 2015 4:45 am

(BPT) - When buying a first home, most people are making one of the biggest purchases of their lives. Without home buying experience, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Get the facts on these common first-time home buying myths:

Myth – It takes a 20 percent down payment to buy a home.

Reality
– Required down payment amounts vary by type of loan and they are on average much smaller than people think. Last year, the median down payment for all first-time buyers was 6 percent, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. One reason is that many first-time buyers use FHA loans, which require down payments as low as 3 to 3.5 percent. VA loans require nothing down for qualified veterans or active military personnel. If you want to take out a conventional loan, many lenders do require 20 percent down, but you can lower that percentage with private mortgage insurance. There are also hundreds of down payment assistance programs that eliminate or reduce down payment requirements for qualified borrowers.

Myth – If you owe a lot of student loan debt, there is no way you can get a mortgage.

Reality – Don't assume that having a lot of student loan debt automatically disqualifies you from getting a mortgage. The key factor is not necessarily the size of your loan obligation, but the amount of your total monthly debt payments compared to your monthly income. This is called DTI.

Myth – If your credit score is low, you should not even try to get a mortgage.

Reality – Millions of potential buyers assume they will not be approved for a mortgage even though many could qualify. Today, median FICO scores for mortgages to buy a home are 683 for FHA loans and 754 for conventional loans. But hundreds of thousands of buyers with scores lower than those are getting mortgages if they have good income and low levels of debt.

Myth – Buying a home isn't a good investment.


Reality
– Real estate, like other assets, rises and falls based on supply and demand. Over the past two years, home values in most markets have been rising. While all real estate is local, if you bought a home in March 2012, by August 2014, the national median home price as measured by Case-Shiller had risen 29.6 percent.

Myth – The mortgage interest tax deduction is going away.

Reality
– Though the deduction has its critics, most observers believe it is unlikely that Congress will eliminate the mortgage interest deduction any time soon. Many states also allow homeowners to write off the interest they pay on their mortgages from their state income taxes. Check with your accountant or CPA on if you can qualify for this type of tax deduction.

Myth – I'm about to get married and the wedding is so expensive I won't be able to buy a home.

Reality – According to TheKnot, the average wedding has 138 guests who typically give a gift valued at $100 each. That's $13,800 in spatulas, baking pans and other things. If every guest contributed to a down payment fund instead, you could have enough saved for a down payment.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Household 'Internet of Things' Heats Up in 2015

January 19, 2015 4:45 am

U.S. households will continue to adopt smart home technologies this year, according to recently released research from marketing intelligence firm Parks Associates. With 37 percent of households set to own or use a connected device in 2015, it’s clear that the ‘Internet of things’ is continuing to gain traction in everyday households.

Currently, 34 percent of households contain a smart home television, and 16 percent own a smart home device. Retailers will continue to meet the demands of this growing trend, rolling out interactive, flexible and personalized innovations throughout 2015 and beyond.

“This year will feature an expansion of the smart home,” said Tom Kerber, Parks Associates. “Companies from [all] channels are now competing in the smart home ecosystem.”

Source: Parks Associates

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Five Steps to Cyber Security

January 19, 2015 4:45 am

Amidst a digital age and the digitization of information, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. Recent studies show that every minute, 19 identities are stolen. Headlines have shown data breach after data breach taking place at major retailers. And as seen in the case of Sony Pictures, no matter how large the corporation is, or how much security is applied to personal information, with today’s breaches, everyone is at risk.

To help prevent theft from occurring, the American Consumer Credit Counseling organization advises taking these preemptive steps.

1. Be elusive on social media. Try to exclude specific, important information from your social media profiles. Minimize details in your “About Me” sections, and leave out phone numbers or addresses. This information is prime knowledge for hackers. Also, be sure to set all your privacy settings to create a secure profile.

2. Strengthen your online passwords. While it’s easier to remember passwords with our birthdays or hometowns in them, try to make your password a little more complex. Use punctuation and different capitalization. Also, veer away from using one password for all your accounts; if one is hacked, all your information across accounts can be compromised.

3. Be wary with your email address. While shopping online, or creating required accounts, use a new email address. Creating an email address for yourself is an easy task, and it’s best to have a specific one for online activity. Use a primary email address for personal information; use your secondary one for shopping, newsgroups, or social networking sites. Make sure to only give your primary email address to people you know.

4. Look for signs. Look for suspicious red flags when you’re on websites or signing up for mailing lists. Make sure your online purchases come from companies with secure payment pages and privacy policies. You can check Web addresses: if there is an ‘s’ located after the ‘http’ (https://), the website is secure. If not, don’t use it. Never respond to emails asking for account information or passwords. If a “bank” is asking for this information electronically, make sure to call the bank directly.

5. Monitor what you’ve shared. Identity thieves gain access to personal information by piecing together information over multiple websites. Make sure to think about what information you have where online.

Source: ACCC

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Do Off-season Home Projects Now, Save Later

January 16, 2015 4:45 am

Remodeling projects have peak and off-seasons – winter, for example, is prime time for heating and insulation professionals. While you may need to do a cold weather repair this season, consider taking advantage of projects normally carried out in warmer months, too. Some ideas:

Install Central Air Conditioning

According to Consumer Reports, central air conditioners are 20-40 percent more efficient than those manufactured just 10 years ago. Air conditioning is probably the last thing on your mind in winter, but now’s the perfect time to score a deal from a qualified cooling contractor. And professionals are more likely to return calls, give you estimates and complete the project on time during a slower season.

Prune Trees
Since there’s no leaves to create mess, winter is the perfect season to remove dead limbs or trim back branches. It’s also easier to gauge what needs pruning without leaves obstructing your view, and there will be less debris to pick up once you’re finished.

Replace Windows
Most modern windows can be installed at any time of year, thanks to new, water-resistant coverings like vinyl, aluminum and fiberglass. Have your window installer measure each window prior to taking out the old one so that every new window can be fitted to the frame immediately.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Note Warning Signs of Home Heating Systems

January 16, 2015 4:45 am

According to the National Fire Protection Association, half of home heating equipment fires are reported during the months of December, January and February. To mitigate your risk of home fire, the experts at American Home Shield recommend taking note of the warning signs associated with home heating systems.

What homeowners should keep an eye on:
Gas odors – If you smell gas around your heating unit or home, leave the area and call your gas company immediately.

Pilot light – Be sure your pilot light is burning a steady blue flame. If it is not, call your heating professional or local gas company.

Exhaust fan – Take a close look at your exhaust fan for any rust, damage or deterioration. If you notice any, call a qualified professional and describe what you see to determine whether a repair is needed.

Space heaters – Space heaters should be plugged directly into a wall outlet (never into an extension cord), and turned off at night. When in use, always be sure space heaters are a safe distance from curtains and other flammable items.
Homeowners should also be vigilant about maintaining their heating system.

"One of the most important things that a homeowner can do is to have their heating system inspected and serviced annually by a licensed professional," said Dave Quandt, vice president of field services for American Home Shield. "Not only can it help keep your heating unit in top condition, but it can help you avoid potentially dangerous safety issues down the road.”

Source: American Home Shield

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Break New Year's Resolutions and Stick to Basics

January 16, 2015 4:45 am

Research shows that every year, nearly half of Americans resolve to make lifestyle changes, but only 8 percent actually achieve those goals.

“Americans have been inundated with quick fixes like fad diets,” says Dr. Tony Norelli, Medical Director, Northwestern Mutual. "We don't need new ways to live healthier and happier. What's old is new again. We need to get back to the basics. We need long-term solutions, not resolutions with a deadline. Today, planning is the new plaid; the basics are the new black."

Norelli recommends focusing on these essential five lifelong solutions to live healthier and happier in 2015 and beyond:

1. Plan a check-up. When it comes to your physical health, primary prevention is key. Routine "check-ups" at a doctor's office can help keep your well-being on track – and add a year, on average, to your lifespan.

2. Consume less. Food portions in America's restaurants have doubled or tripled over the last 20 years. Many of us are members of the "clean plate club" generation, so it can seem strange to encourage yourself to stop eating when you're full. Remember, "all you can eat" is a suggestion, not a challenge.

3. Move more. An active lifestyle is an investment in your lifespan - and can be good insurance against heart disease and cancer. Can you make physical activity or sports a regular part of your day? If so, you could add years to your life.

4. Relax. Stress can help you be more productive or block you from achieving your potential. Knowing how to handle stress can make your life longer – and more enjoyable. Regular exercise is an excellent way to mitigate stress. Find something like yoga, walking, running, cycling or weight lifting, and keep doing it.

Source: Northwestern Mutual

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Have Your Home Tested for Radon

January 15, 2015 4:45 am

January is National Radon Action Month. More dangerous than carbon monoxide, radon is an invisible, odorless, natural gas that can cause health issues if exposed to high dosages. In fact, The American Lung Association, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute are in agreement that radon can cause lung cancer.

Radon gas is not isolated to certain geographical areas or home types, and homeowners are unable to see, smell or taste it. The only way to determine radon levels is to have your home tested, either with an inexpensive home test kit or with the help of a certified professional.

If radon is present in your home, contact an air quality professional to clear your home, and conduct tests annually to ensure radon does not enter your home in the future.

Source: SWAT Environmental

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Knowledge Is Power When Mortgage Shopping

January 15, 2015 4:45 am

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently reported that half of consumers do not shop around for a mortgage when purchasing a home. Informed consumers, however, are more likely to research mortgage options, especially if they are familiar with available mortgage rates.

According to CFPB Director Richard Cordray, consumers seek to understand the lending process, but are intimidated by its complexities. The report also found:
Three out of four consumers only apply with one lender or broker.
Fewer than one out of four borrowers actually end up submitting a loan application to more than one lender or broker. These consumers are not filling out applications with multiple lenders to see which one can offer them the best deal.

Most consumers get their information from lenders or brokers, who have a stake in the outcome.
Seventy percent of consumers report relying on their lender or mortgage broker ‘a lot’ to get information about mortgages. While lenders and brokers can be valuable resources, they have a stake in the selling of the mortgage, so what is best for the lender or broker is not always best for the consumer.

Borrowers who prioritize the terms of the loan over the characteristics of the lender are more likely to shop.
Among all borrowers – those who shopped and those who did not – 42 percent said having an established banking relationship with the lender is “very important.” Since most borrowers likely only have a few banking relationships, this likely inhibits shopping.
Failing to shop means money lost for consumers. Those who consider the product offerings of multiple lenders or brokers may save substantial sums. For example, interest rates can span more than half a percent for a conventional mortgage for borrowers with a good credit rating and a 20 percent down payment. For a borrower taking out a 30-year fixed-rate loan for $200,000, getting an interest rate of 4 percent instead of 4.5 percent translates into almost $60 saved per month. Over the first five years, the borrower would save about $3,500 in mortgage payments. In addition, the lower interest rate means that the borrower would pay off an additional $1,400 in principal in the first five years, building greater equity.

While many risky features of mortgages are now restricted or unavailable in the marketplace since the financial crisis, mortgages still have different terms and features. Key components include the loan term, loan type, and interest rate. Loan terms typically vary between 15 and 30 years. Loan types include Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs (VA), and conventional loans. Interest rates can be fixed or adjustable, and the rates vary across lenders, even for the same consumer and for loans with otherwise identical product features. Consumers can shop for a mortgage by researching and inquiring with multiple lenders, applying for mortgages with multiple lenders, or applying for different kinds of loans.

Source: CFPB

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Prep Your Car for Freezing Temps

January 15, 2015 4:45 am

When it comes to winter car care, many motorists think of antifreeze and batteries. When temperatures drop, vehicles need extra attention, according to the Car Care Council.

"Winter magnifies existing problems such as pings, hard starts, sluggish performance and rough idling, and very cold temperatures reduce battery power. If you haven't had your vehicle checked recently, a thorough vehicle inspection is a good idea so you can avoid the aggravation and unexpected cost of a breakdown in freezing weather,” says Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council.

Keep your vehicle maintained and operational over the winter months with these tips:

1. Keep the gas tank at least half full; this decreases the chance of moisture forming in the gas lines and possibly freezing.

2. Check the tire pressure, including the spare, as tires can lose pressure when temperatures drop. Consider special tires if snow and ice are a problem in your area.

3. Have the exhaust system checked for carbon monoxide leaks, which can be especially dangerous during cold weather driving when windows are closed.

4. Allow your car a little more time to warm up when temperatures are below freezing so that the oil in the engine and transmission circulate and get warm.

5. Change to low-viscosity oil in winter as it will flow more easily between moving parts when it is cold. Drivers in sub-zero temperatures should drop their oil weight from 10-W30 to 5-W30 as thickened oil can make it hard to start the car.

6. Consider using cold weather washer fluid and special winter windshield blades if you live in a place with especially harsh winter conditions.

7. As a precaution, motorists should be sure their vehicle is stocked with an emergency kit containing an ice scraper and snowbrush, jumper cables, flashlight, blanket, extra clothes, bottled water, dry food snacks and needed medication.

Source: Car Care Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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