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

My Blog

A Simple Year-End Money Checklist

December 16, 2015 2:04 am

To ring in the New Year with a measure of fiscal confidence, it’s a good idea to review where you stand at year’s end and resolve to do whatever it takes to improve your financial status by the end of next year. Consumer finance consultant Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation, suggests taking these five steps before you ring out this year:

Review your spending patterns – With credit card statements in front of you, take a good, hard look at your expense patterns over the course of the year. Too many dinners out? Too much impulse spending? Resolve to do a better job of reining in expenses next year.

Know your net worth – Add up what you own (home, car, savings, investments, etc.) and subtract what you owe (mortgage, loans, etc.) Use the number as a personal framework for making financial decisions going forward.

Rethink credit card usage – If your credit cards are causing you to spend too freely, or spend more than you would without them, put them in the very back of your wallet and resolve to cut back on your use of them.

Create an emergency fund – If you haven’t already, start building a fund that will cover 3-6 months’ worth of essential living expenses in the event you lose your job or cannot work. Try paying into that fund first each month, before you pay your other bills.

Be sure you’re on track for retirement – Re-commit to making retirement savings a priority in your financial plan. Do the math, or check with a financial planner, so you know how much you should be putting away in your IRA, 401(k) or other business retirement plan each month, and make adjustments as needed.

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4 Tips to Make Home Maintenance Easier

December 16, 2015 2:04 am

(Family Features)—Some home maintenance jobs require a significant investment of time and specialized equipment, but there are many projects you can accomplish efficiently with basic tools and the right approach. Follow these tips to get started.

Update your toolbox. Take inventory to ensure your collection is complete, and replace damaged or rusted tools. Your toolbox is also a good place to store common repair items such as adhesive.

Get ahead of potential problems. For example, have a plunger on hand to prevent clogged sinks and toilets from causing water damage, and keep gutters and filters clean to prevent structural damage or fire. You can also protect your home and valuables from damage by using adhesive to secure precious items from getting knocked over, and protect floors from traffic damage by securing rugs and felt pads to furniture.

Take a helping hand. Most phones have levels and flashlights that can help with minor jobs, and your phone’s calendar can be set with recurring reminders so that you’ll never miss a maintenance date. In addition, find creative ways to make tasks easier.

Get organized. Daily home maintenance tasks like cleaning are easier when they are done along the way rather than letting them pile up, creating a bigger job. Store everyday needs in each room, or on each floor. For maximum efficiency, keep cleaning supplies in both the bath and the kitchen, and a broom and vacuum on each floor.

Source: GlueDots.com

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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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