Kerry Ziegler
Phone:  215-679-6877Office:  215-679-9797
Email:  kzhomes@comcast.netFax:  267-354-6922
Kerry Ziegler
Kerry Ziegler

My Blog

What to Know about Title Insurance

December 16, 2015 2:04 am

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

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

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

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

Source: ALTA

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Tradition Trumps Mobile when Holiday Shopping

December 15, 2015 2:01 am

It’s no secret mobile shopping has become more popular than ever, and with the holiday shopping season in full swing, the convenience of mobile stands to drive an increase in browsing and buying via smartphone—but not for every shopper, says Mike Sands, CEO of marketing technology leader Signal.

"Mobile is critical during the holiday season because of the convenience it offers to time-crunched shoppers who can browse or buy the perfect gift for a loved one anytime, anywhere," says Sands. "But even today's busy, always-on consumers still want to enjoy the festivity of the season, and for many, browsing in stores is an important part of getting into the holiday spirit."

As such, many shoppers will endeavor on a cross-channel shopping experience, says Sands.  In fact, according to a recent Signal survey:

• 85 percent of respondents plan to shop from desktops or laptops;
• 82 percent of respondents plan to shop in stores;
• 60 percent of respondents plan to shop on smartphones or tablets.

Why is mobile taking a backseat? According to the survey, security concerns top the list of reasons why respondents are hesitant to make purchases via mobile. Respondents also cited concerns over viewing products on smaller screens and entering information on mobile devices.

Source: Signal

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Your Property: Signs of a Hazardous Tree

December 15, 2015 2:01 am

Hazardous trees pose a danger to people and property. When storms or high winds hit, limbs, and often whole trees, fall to the ground.

"Many fatal accidents and millions of dollars in property damage can be averted if homeowners heed the warning signs of a hazardous tree," says Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist for the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). "By not paying attention to your trees, you are potentially placing your property, even your life, in jeopardy."

Fortunately, one can often read the clues that indicate a tree is prone to failure. For instance, if a tree has large branches attached with tight, V-shaped forks, you should consider having those branches removed or lightened. Other warning signs of structural instability include cracks in the trunk or major limbs, hollow and decayed areas, or the presence of extensive dead wood. Mushrooms growing from the base of the tree or under its canopy may also be a sign of root decay. Remember to be thorough in your evaluation; the absence of fungus growth does not necessarily mean the tree is healthy.

"It also pays to be highly suspicious of any tree that has had construction activities, such as trenching, addition or removal of soil, digging or heavy equipment movement, anywhere under the spread of its branches," says Andersen.

These activities can cause root death, which, in turn, could lead to the structural instability of the tree. The sign most people recognize is a hollow in a tree. Filling of hollow trees, a process called "cavity filling," was practiced by arborists for many years, but recent research shows it is not needed to support or improve the health of hollow trees.

In fact, cavity filling with cement can actually damage a tree. According to Andersen, "the column of cement created in the tree by a cavity fill doesn't move, just like a column on a building, but the tree is always moving. It sways with the wind constantly. The rubbing created by the swaying tree and the solid column of cement can further damage the tree."

Wood decay fungi that created the hollow in the first place may take advantage of new injuries created by the rubbing and invade the remaining healthy tissue of the tree. If cavity filling is desired for aesthetic reasons, there are new synthetic foams that can be sprayed into the cavity by professional arborists. These materials will bend with the swaying tree, reducing injury.

However, there is really no reason to fill a cavity other than for aesthetic reasons; it doesn't improve the tree's health and doesn't offer extra support. If structural support of a tree is required, a professional arborist will recommend cabling, bracing, propping, tree guying or removing the tree.

Source: TCIA

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Tis the Season to Prepare Your Home for Cold Weather

December 15, 2015 2:01 am

Approximately one-fifth of homeowners insurance claims are brought on by damage caused by water or cold temperatures—much of which comes as a result of snowy conditions, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). Although standard homeowners and renters policies cover winter-related damage, such as that caused by burst pipes, ice dams and wind, as well as damage caused by either the weight of ice or snow, there are a few steps homeowners can take to protect their homes before winter kicks in. These include:

Cleaning out the gutters. Remove leaves, sticks and other debris so melting snow and ice can flow freely, which prevents damming, a condition in which water seeps into the house, potentially damaging ceilings and walls.

Installing gutter guards. This prevents debris from entering the gutter and interfering with the flow of water away from the house and into the ground.

Trimming trees and removing dead branches. Ice, snow and wind can cause weak trees or branches to break and damage your home or car, or injure someone walking by your property.

Adding extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. If too much heat escapes through the attic, it can cause snow or ice to melt and then re-freeze on the roof, resulting in an ice dam that can cause significant roof damage. Well-insulated basements, crawl spaces and unfinished rooms, such as garages, protect pipes from freezing.

Providing a reliable back-up power source. In the event of an electrical outage, continuous power will help prevent frozen pipes. Consider purchasing a portable generator to ensure your household’s safety.
 
Keep in mind that coverage for flooding, including flooding caused by melting snow, is available from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and from some private insurance companies.
 
Remember also that melting snow can overburden sewer systems, causing raw sewage to back up into the drains in your home. Backed up sewers can cause thousands of dollars in damage to floors, walls, furniture and electrical systems. Sewer back-up coverage can be purchased either as a separate product or as an endorsement to your homeowners or renters policy.

Source: I.I.I.

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A 10-Step Winter Preparedness Checklist for Drivers

December 14, 2015 1:58 am

From just-above-freezing temps to record snowfall, there’s no shortage of wild weather when it comes to winter. Before the season sets in, it’s important to assess your vehicle and prepare it for the months ahead, say the experts at the Car Care Council. This includes:
 
• Checking the battery and charging system for optimum performance. Cold weather is hard on batteries;
 
• Checking the antifreeze. As a general rule of thumb, clean, flush and put new antifreeze in the cooling system every two years;
 
• Checking that heaters, defrosters and wipers work properly. Consider winter wiper blades and use cold weather washer fluid;
 
• Checking the tire tread depth and tire pressure. If snow and ice are a problem in your area, consider special tires designed to grip slick roads. During winter, tire pressure should be checked weekly;
 
• Checking the oil and filter and be diligent about changing them at recommended intervals. Dirty oil can spell trouble in winter. Consider changing to “winter weight” oil if you live in a cold climate. Check the fuel, air and transmission filters at the same time;
 
• Checking engine performance before winter sets in. Winter magnifies existing problems such as hard starts, sluggish performance or rough idling;
 
• Checking the brakes. The braking system is the vehicle’s most important safety item;
 
• Checking the exhaust system for carbon online casino monoxide leaks, which can be especially dangerous during cold weather driving when windows are closed;
 
• Checking to see that exterior and interior lights work and headlights are properly aimed. During winter, drivers should keep their vehicle’s gas tank at least half-full to decrease the chances of moisture forming in the gas lines and possibly freezing;
 
• Checking the tire pressure of the spare in the trunk and stocking an emergency kit with an ice scraper and snowbrush, jumper cables, flashlight, blanket, extra clothes, bottled water, dry food snacks and needed medication.

Source: Car Care Council 

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Ready, Set, Glow: 10 Tips for Bright, Beautiful Holiday Displays

December 14, 2015 1:58 am

To say holiday displays have gone extreme is an understatement. (“The Great Christmas Light Fight,” anyone?) But holiday lights don’t have to be over-the-top to have an impact—in fact, just a few professional-grade tricks are all it takes to create a sparkling, festive display.

1. Use LED lights. They burn at a lower temperature and use nearly 90 percent less energy than incandescent lights, making them a safer and more efficient option.

2. Choose a theme. Whether you prefer traditional or a more colorful, contemporary approach, keep your theme consistent to create an attractive and cohesive look.

3. Be unique. Be true to yourself in your design. Find something that speaks to your style and make that the focus of your display.

4. Use a timer. Timers are great investments that save energy and hassle. Set your timer to come on about 30 minutes before sunset and to go off between 11 p.m. and midnight.

5. Select a shade. LED lights come in two shades of white: traditional warm white and cool white. Both create a dazzling holiday look.

6. Don't over-do it. You can create a car-stopping display (without becoming the Griswolds) by adding eye-catching elements like character figures or animation lighting.

7. Use daytime décor. Since lights don't read well during the day, add daytime décor, such as greenery of character figures, to keep your home looking festive all day long.

8. Never use outdated products. Test all your lighting products before installation to confirm that all are in good working order. Replace any questionable or worn bulb or light strand.

9. Highlight the features. Outline a distinct roof line or windows with lights, drape an archway with a lit garland, or light the pathway to your home's door.

10. Don't forget the backyard. Decorate a small area in your backyard to create a holiday focus through your windows.

Source: Christmas Décor, Inc.

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4 Ways to Cut Kitchen Clutter

December 14, 2015 1:58 am

(BPT) - The kitchen may be the heart of the home, but it's also home to a lot of clutter. Resolve to bring order to your kitchen once and for all with these tips, courtesy of the experts at Moen.

1. You don't need a large pantry or countless cupboards and drawers to find the perfect spot for all your stuff. If you have blank space on the walls, consider adding a few open shelves. They provide plenty of storage while keeping everyday dishes and staples, like the coffee canister or cookie jar, within easy reach.

2. The biggest pain point for homeowners is a lack of counter space. Instead of adding to the chaos, designate a specific "drop zone" for items that find their way into the kitchen each day, like mail, paperwork or electronics.

3. Extend the "everything in its place" mentality to another kitchen staple: the dishtowel. Instead of leaving it in a damp heap on the counter, install a towel bar, towel ring or hook to the side of a cabinet or island to create a spot for it to hang. Not only will it free up space, but like in the bathroom or powder room, you'll always know where to look for it when you need it.

4. If you have a pantry, go beyond simple shelves to make this area work better—and smarter—for you. Pullout baskets and shallow drawers will ensure your pantry offers a proper place for everything. Curved cradles can turn an ordinary shelf into a beverage storage center, allowing you to store wine, water or soda bottles on their sides. And instead of wasting the space on the back of the door, install a slim, vertical storage system to provide a spot for plastic wrap, aluminum foil and other awkward-sized kitchen must-haves.

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Simple Tips to Achieve Short Sale Success

December 12, 2015 10:51 am

If you’re in the market for a new home, chances are you’ll come across the term ‘short sale’ at some point in your search. In its simplest terms, a short sale is when a home is sold for less than what is owed and the bank forgives the excess debt.

While short sales were a very popular means of selling a home within the past few years, they’re in much less supply today as the housing market continues to recover.  In fact, banks are more reluctant to grant a short sale unless there is some form of financial hardship that’s causing an inability to afford the mortgage payment. 

Another reason for the drop in short sales is that lenders are finding that as home prices rise, more often than not, they can get a better outcome through foreclosure auctions or REO sales, which are often quicker than short sales.

While the number of short sales has fallen significantly over the last few years as rising home values have forced far fewer distressed homeowners to sell, short sales remain plentiful in some areas of the country, and you can still find some serious bargains.

Once a bank receives a short sale request from a homeowner, the bank performs a BPO (Broker Price Opinion), which is simply an opinion of what the house is worth from a local real estate broker. The bank uses this BPO when determining the short sale amount. 

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be bargaining. In fact, the whole idea of going for a short sale is to find a home for less than market value. However, when making an offer, be sure you don’t lowball too much. 
 
If you’re interested in pursuing a short sale, your agent should check recent home sales in the area to get a better idea of the properties that are selling and work with you to come up with an appropriate price that’ll be more likely to be approved by the bank. 

When you make an offer on a short sale, federally regulated lenders must respond within 30 days and deliver a final decision within 60 days. However, that deadline has loopholes, as the lender can ask the seller for more paperwork and then delay the decision while waiting for that paperwork to arrive.

One important thing to keep in mind is that with a short sale, there is no leniency with the closing escrow date and a buyer must close on time. Because of this, it’s important to take care of all loan paperwork immediately after opening escrow. 
 
Also, be warned that when buying a home that’s listed as a short sale, chances are that there might be some issues that need to be addressed as the previous owners most likely didn’t spend the money or take the time to fix things that other sellers most often do. 

To learn more about short sales, contact our office today.

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5 Questions You Can't Afford to Overlook When Choosing an Agent

December 12, 2015 10:51 am

The 2015 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers revealed that 89 percent of sellers sold their home with an agent last year. It also notes that only 8 percent were FSBO sales, which is down from 9 percent the last three years, and the lowest share ever recorded since the survey’s 1981 inception.

Obviously, having an agent is key to selling your home. Homes represented by an agent sell faster, transact for more money and are less stressful than if you were going at it alone. But where do you find the best one for you?

According to NAR’s survey, a combined 66 percent of responding sellers found their real estate agent through a referral by a friend, neighbor or relative, or used their agent from a previous transaction. Furthermore, the responses reveal client referrals and repeat business remain the predominant source of business for real estate agents, with most sellers (84 percent) indicating they would definitely (67 percent) or probably (17 percent) recommend their agent for future services.

But choosing an agent to represent you throughout the process is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. 
 
Here are five questions you should ask before choosing an agent.

1. What sort of marketing plan will you use?
Today, more than ever, the success of a home sale relies on a great marketing campaign, which includes a solid social media strategy. You want to be sure your agent is getting your home seen by as many prospective buyers as possible. What is their online presence? Will they be creating videos? Is there anything unique they’ll be doing to get the word out about your property? By asking these questions ahead of time, you’ll know exactly what the agent is going to do to get your home sold. 
 
2. How are you compensated? Don’t be afraid to talk about money from the get-go. Before signing anything with an agent, you should understand the percentage he or she will command once the home is sold. The percentage will vary depending on location and market trends, and there may even be some room for negotiation. In a hot market, commissions might dip lower because homes are easier to sell. Conversely, in a weak market, an agent might be less likely to budge on their fee. Along with commission, it’s also important to discuss an agent’s cancellation policy.

3. Do you work alone or with a team? Nowadays, many agents work as part of a team, so you’ll want to know going into the process whether the person you hire will be the one doing the work, or if the support team will be showing the house and handling the marketing of your home. You may like a particular agent because they posses a level of trust that you think will help, but if they farm the work off to people you haven’t met—and may not have a similar feeling about—the process may not meet your expectations. On the other hand, having more people working for you is never a bad thing, as long as everyone sticks to the game plan. 
 
4. How often will we communicate? Do you want your agent to call you every day with updates, or only check in when they have something to report? Some sellers like hearing from their agent on the phone on a consistent basis, while others would prefer a quick text to update them on the progress. Let your agent know what you want and see how well they communicate along your terms. Real estate professionals should have the tools to stay in touch according to your wants and needs. Just be sure to express them clearly in the beginning. 

5. How many listings do you currently have? You may find an agent who has everything you’re looking for, but learn that they have a dozen other properties in your neighborhood that they represent. If this is the case, how certain are you that they’ll be putting your home above the others? It’s not to say that a good agent can’t handle multiple listings, but take the time to decide if this is something that’s important to you. In the end, you need to feel comfortable knowing that your house is at the top of their list. 

For more tips on choosing an agent, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Understanding the Flood Insurance Act: What You Need to Know

December 12, 2015 10:51 am

When it comes to selling a home, there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration, one being location. And for those looking to sell a home in an area that’s considered at-risk for flooding, the process can be somewhat challenging. 

Over the past decade, storms like Hurricane Sandy have wreaked havoc on many parts of the country, causing insurance rates to go even higher, which is ultimately having a negative effect on home sales. According to data from the National Association of REALTORS®, from October 2013 to January 2014, over 40,000 home sales were either delayed or canceled because of increases and confusion over flood insurance rates.

This led to some swift action by President Barack Obama, who, following the release of these figures, said that homes in flood-prone areas would no longer be subject to sharp increases in flood insurance premiums when they’re sold, or when a new flood map places them in a higher-risk area.

On March 21, 2014, President Obama signed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 into law, which repeals and modifies certain provisions of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which was enacted in 2012, and makes additional program changes to other aspects of the program not covered by the Act. 

“The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, S. 1926 is the time-out REALTORS® first advocated when dramatic flood insurance premium increases went into effect on October 1, 2013,” said Steve Brown, president of NAR in a statement at the time of the passage of the bill. “This legislation will help homeowners nationwide who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of extreme flood insurance rates that are the unintended consequence of the Biggert-Waters reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program.”

The new law caps flood insurance premium increases and allows below-market insurance rates to be passed on to people buying homes in flood zones with taxpayer-subsidized policies.

Still, it’s not good news for everyone. Those who live in older homes and enjoy subsidized flood insurance rates could still see annual increases in their premiums of up to 18 percent. Furthermore, homes in high-risk areas (labeled with codes starting with A or V on flood maps) will need to pay a new premium surcharge of either $25 or $250 per year to help offset the cost of the new bill. The surcharge applies to all properties that have national flood insurance, even those paying the full-risk rate.

Brown believes this is the first step in what he hopes is a retooling of the way Congress looks at the flood law, and expects it to help with home sales going forward.

FEMA classifies flood risk as something unique to each structure and looks at factors such as the elevation of the property relative to predicted flood levels, the construction style of the building, and the flood risk zone. It also publishes flood hazard maps that show predicted flood levels and flood risk zones based on historical climate information and the best available science. Some common examples of Special Flood Hazard Areas include coastal floodplains, floodplains along major rivers, and areas subject to flooding from ponding in low lying areas.

For more information about the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, contact our office today. 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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