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

My Blog

Interested in an HOA? What You Need to Know before Signing the Dotted Line

November 19, 2015 10:51 am

When it comes to buying a house, prospective buyers have a lot to consider. From the home’s price to its location and distance to work and play, there are numerous factors that need to come together in order to successfully make your way through the process. But many house hunters often overlook the cost and rules that come along with a homeowners association.
 
In its simplest definition, an HOA is a legal entity that manages a shared housing complex, whether it’s a condo building, a row of townhouses or a suburban housing development with shared space. While not every new home is affiliated with an HOA, many communities are, making this one area that can’t be overlooked when it comes to making a decision.
 
The easiest way to determine if a home you’re looking at is part of an HOA is to ask your agent or look closely at the listing yourself. The last thing you want is to be saddled with unexpected fees once you move into a new space.
 
When it comes to the cost associated with an HOA, it’s important to remember that it varies. Most homeowners associations collect monthly dues and use the money to fund activities that everyone in the community can take part in such as Halloween parties for the kids or a neighborhood wine and cheese night. This may be a great selling point for a new family moving into the area, but make sure you can afford the dues before signing the dotted line.
 
In a condo or townhome setting, the money from an HOA goes toward common elements such as landscaping, snow removal, fencing, mailboxes and entry gates. HOA fees can also be used to pay for the development’s security, maintain a shared swimming pool or playground and manage a shared septic system.
 
If you’re looking at properties that are part of an HOA, keep in mind that you can’t simply come and go from the association as you please. If you buy a property with an HOA, you’re required to be a part of it. While the structure of an association can vary depending on the total number of members, most have a president, treasurer and some elected board members.
 
Aside from the fees associated with an HOA, there may also be rules about what color you’re allowed to paint your door, the type of mailbox you can have, or even where you must place your garbage pails. If you consistently break the rules, you may be fined. 
 
An HOA also has a say in whether you can do certain remodeling projects such as building a deck or adding a swimming pool.
 
There are many benefits associated with purchasing a home that’s part of an HOA, but before making a final decision, make sure you understand everything that’s required. 
 
To learn more about homeowners associations, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Improving Real Estate Market Offers Much to be Thankful for This Holiday Season

November 19, 2015 10:51 am

Going through the home-selling process can be a challenging proposition for everyone involved, but as we enter the holiday season, it’s important to take a step back and remember that there’s a lot to be thankful for—even if your home is still on the market.
 
Even if the process hasn’t gone as smoothly as you had hoped, be thankful that you still have a home to sell. There are millions of people throughout the country who don’t have a home to call their own, and many millennials are still living in their parents’ basement. During the holiday season especially, be grateful that you have a roof over your head, as well as for the fact that once you sell, you’ll most likely have another. 
 
The improving economy is another reason to be thankful this holiday season. As the economy continues to improve, so too does the housing market, making it a good time to have a home listed as the market appears to be performing better than it has over the last three years. 
 
It’s also important to pay thanks to the fact that we live in a world where technological advancements make it easier than ever to show your home to prospective buyers. The Internet, mobile phones and tablets have made showcasing your house as easy as clicking a button. Plus, advancements in cameras and videos can work to your advantage when it comes to highlighting your home more beautifully than ever.
 
More often than not, when people take a step back and examine their lives and think about all that they have, they become more charitable—something that can help when preparing for a sale. Giving away clothes or items that you no longer use/need will eliminate some of the clutter from your home and go a long way toward helping others.
 
And last but not least, be thankful that you’re working with a savvy real estate professional who can seamlessly guide you through the process. Today’s agents work hard to ensure your home is properly marketed to everyone out there, and more often than not, you’re not seeing everything that goes on behind the scenes. In fact, recent research from the National Association of REALTORS® shows that houses are selling faster and for more money today, a feat that couldn’t be achieved without real estate professionals who are at the top of their game.
 
Contact our office today for more reasons to give thanks this holiday season.  

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In this Edition: Homeowners Insurance

November 19, 2015 10:51 am

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters examines the many reasons we have to be thankful as we head into this year’s holiday season. Other topics covered this month include what you need to know before purchasing a home that’s part of a homeowners association and simple ways to get your home in tip-top shape when looking to sell quickly. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Social Security Sweet Spot: Deciding When to Claim Benefits

November 19, 2015 1:01 am

Many of us plan to claim Social Security benefits upon reaching full retirement age—but according to a recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), knowing exactly when to claim benefits is unclear. In response to those findings, the CFPB has released “Planning for Retirement,” an interactive tool designed to help individuals before making a claim.

“Millions of Americans are likely to face financial insecurity in their retirement years,” says CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Deciding when to start claiming Social Security benefits is one of the most important financial choices a consumer will make. The CFPB’s ‘Planning for Retirement’ tool can help consumers clearly see their options.”

According to the report, many Americans collect Social Security benefits early, despite living longer. On average, Americans reaching age 65 today will live to age 85, meaning they’ll likely need sufficient income and savings to cover 20 years or more in retirement. Additionally, approximately two-thirds of the nearly 40 million Americans aged 65 and older who receive Social Security benefits depend on it for 50 percent or more of their retirement income. For a growing number of beneficiaries aged 80 and older, Social Security benefits account for 70 percent or more of their income.

Americans are eligible to claim Social Security retirement benefits without any reduction at their “full retirement age,” according to the Social Security Administration. For people born after 1942, full retirement age ranges from 66 to 67, depending on the year the person was born. Individuals can also claim their benefits several years before, agreeing to take less money each month, or they can claim several years after and get bigger monthly checks.

Generally, the amount an individual receives from Social Security is a one-time choice. This means if an individual claims the reduced or increased benefit, they receive that amount for the rest of their life, with annual cost-of-living adjustments.

The tool can be found at www.consumerfinance.gov/retirement/before-you-claim/.

Source: CFPB.gov

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7 Steps to a Safer Home for the Holidays

November 19, 2015 1:01 am

Gearing up for guests this holiday season? If so, now’s the time to ensure your home is safely outfitted for company. According to the remodelers of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), homeowners who expect visitors, especially elderly individuals, should assess their homes for hazards, and, if necessary, increase accessibility to accommodate their needs.

“Welcoming loved ones to your home is a cherished holiday tradition,” says NAHB Remodelers Chair Robert Criner, a remodeler from Newport News, Va. “By making some simple home modifications, you can ensure that family and friends will enjoy a comfortable visit and be able to maneuver around your house without trouble this year.”

Steps to take include the following:

1. Secure rugs and carpets. Secure area rugs with non-slip pads or double-sided carpet tape so that they are snug to the floor. Temporarily remove throw rugs, including bathroom mats, to prevent guests from tripping on the edges.

2. Test stair railings. Check that stair railings inside and out are tightly fastened. Make repairs where needed.

3. Turn up the lights. Put night lights in bathrooms, the guest bedroom, hallways and in the kitchen. Make sure there is a lamp or light switch within reach of the guest bed so that your visitor can keep a light on until safely tucked in. Well-lit outdoor walkways and entrances are also important when coming or going at night.

4. Clear outdoor walkways. Rake leaves, salt for ice and shovel snow from sidewalks and driveways to prevent falls.

5. Add non-slip treads or a mat to the shower. Be sure the shower your guest will use has a non-slip floor. To enhance traction, apply non-slip strips or a suction-attached non-slip mat.

6. Offer the best seat. Choose the best seat for your guest’s comfort—not too high, not too low. A firm cushion can prevent them from sinking too low in to the seat, and arms can help a person easily get up and down.

7. De-clutter. Move objects or even furniture that a person usually has to maneuver around. Secure cords to the wall or baseboards with hooks to prevent tripping. Clear stair steps of any objects, such as shoes, books, and other personal items, that tend to collect on the lower treads.

Source: NAHB

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Green Homes Favored Across the Board

November 19, 2015 1:01 am

During the housing downturn, green homes provided support to the ailing residential market. Now, green homes promise to be an important element of the recovering market, according to a recently released study by Dodge Data & Analytics in partnership with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and with the support of Ply Gem Industries. In fact, a high percentage of home builders and remodelers report individuals of all ages are interested in green homes and features—and particularly those over age 55.

"Builders and remodelers have long recognized that green is the future of home building," says Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo., and chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). "Since we first began partnering on this study with Dodge Data & Analytics in 2006, we've seen that commitment grow. The study's recent findings reinforce this continued growth, with new homeowner feedback showing a desire and expectation that new homes be high-performing, particularly when it comes to energy conservation.”

Per the study, 54 percent of home builders and nearly 40 percent of remodelers are currently constructing or remodeling at least 16 percent of their homes green. By 2020, 81 percent of home builders and 74 percent of remodelers anticipate constructing or remodeling at the same level of green.

Key factors driving the growth of green are the association of green homes with healthier living and the increasing use of renewable energy. According to the study, nearly half of home builders and remodelers (48 percent) expect to be using solar photovoltaic and ground source heat pump technologies.

Net zero homes are also emerging as an important trend, with nearly a quarter (21 percent) of home builders having built a net zero home in the last two years.

Source: Dodge Data & Analytics

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5 Ways to Prepare Your Deck for Winter

November 18, 2015 1:01 am

(Family Features) Foot traffic, summer storms, scorching heat, high humidity—your deck has seen it all this summer. But did you know colder months can also bring a slew of wearing elements?

According to Wood. It’s Real., funded by the Southern Pine Awareness Network (SPAN), an information clearing house for homeowners, snow, ice, wet slush and lack of sunlight can cause significant damage to your deck if left unattended. To stave off this damage—and avoid replacement altogether—Wood. It’s Real. recommends:

• Packing. Now is the time to do some seasonal de-cluttering. Store items such as planters, which can cause decay and discoloration if they remain on the deck all winter, and put away furniture and cushions you don't expect to use until warmer weather returns.

• Cleaning. Use a power washer to remove accumulated dirt and any signs of staining or damage, such as mildew. Remember that cleaning isn't just about appearance; it's also about protecting the woodwork. Be sure to wash both the top and bottom of the deck.

• Inspecting and repairing. Inspect your deck for signs of wear and tear from the warmer months and make any necessary repairs or upgrades. If your deck falls into disrepair, replace boards or the entire deck using a cost-effective wood (such as Southern Yellow Pine) that resists the aging process.

• Protecting. You can easily test whether it's time to add a protective coating to your deck by checking whether water beads or soaks into the wood. You may be able to spot treat with waterproofing or stain by sanding the affected areas and reapplying. However, if the problem area is widespread or you can't remember the last time you stained or waterproofed the entire deck, it's probably time to do it again.

• Maintaining. Shovel snow regularly using a plastic shovel—metal shovels can ding and gouge wood. Use sand rather than salt or ice melt products that can harm the surface of your deck, and be sure to brush off any excess after melting.

Source: Wood. It’s Real.

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The Leading Causes of Home Fires

November 18, 2015 1:01 am

Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve are peak days for home fires—and the leading causes are cooking a holiday meal or burning decorative candles, reports the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA).

"These statistics are a serious reminder of how the excitement of holiday entertaining can quickly turn into a life-altering fire or even a tragic injury or death," says Sue Steen, chief executive officer of Servpro Industries, Inc. "While glowing candles and elaborate meals set the stage for a great holiday get-together, homeowners need to exercise extra care in controlling the dangerous potential for fires."

According to the NFPA, unattended cooking is by far the leading cause of home cooking fires, with frying posing the greatest fire risk and electric ranges posing a higher risk than gas ranges. Range top cooking in general starts the majority of home cooking fires.

Candles are another leading cause of home fires. Unattended or abandoned candles account for a large portion of candle fires—almost 20 percent—but the most frequent cause of candle fires is placing the candle too close to something that can burn, like curtains, decorations or furniture.

To keep your family and home safe from fire, remain vigilant as to its causes, even amid holiday celebrations, Steen says.

Source: SERVPRO®

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Study: Solar Energy Systems Boost Home Values

November 18, 2015 1:01 am

Considering a solar-powered home? Your dollars will be well spent. According to a recent study produced by the Appraisal Institute, “Appraising Into the Sun: Six-State Solar Home Paired-Sales Analysis,” homes with host-owned solar photovoltaic energy systems are sold at a premium compared to homes without PV systems.

Appraisal Institute researchers concluded the location, age, size and efficiency must be considered in determining the value of a PV system. The value also is impacted by local factors, such as the retail cost of electricity and any local incentives provided for those who own a PV system.

The study, released by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, compared comparable sales of 43 homes in six states: California, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania. For each of the properties, researchers generated contributory-value estimates based on gross cost (PV cost before incentives), net cost (PV cost after incentives) and income (value of energy savings from PV systems, calculated using the PV Value® tool).

Source: Appraisal Institute

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Beware the Grinch: Don't Fall for Seasonal Scams

November 17, 2015 12:58 am

Holiday scammers will be out in full force now that giving season is approaching—and unfortunately, according to a recent report by the AARP, many are unaware of the warning signs. In fact, 70 percent of those surveyed for the report incorrectly answered questions pertaining to some of the most common seasonal scams, including those related to charitable giving and gift cards.

“While most of us focus on family and friends during the holidays, fraudsters are zeroing in on our wallets and bank accounts,” says AARP Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond. “We’re encouraging consumers to elevate their awareness of some emerging and popular scams, and to also share the information with their families to help keep them safe this holiday season.”

Last year, Americans gave $358 billion dollars to charity, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. Government officials who regulate charities and fundraisers say that while most charities are legitimate, there are many fundraisers, especially telemarketers, who keep 85-90 percent of the money they raise. 

According to the AARP report, 70 percent of those who donated to a charity or fundraiser in the past 12 months did so without asking any questions about how that donation would be spent, and 60 percent made donations without verifying the charity groups were legally authorized to raise money in their state.

To ensure your donation goes to its intended recipient, keep in mind that in most states, professional fundraisers must be registered with the Office of the State Secretary, and also report how much they raise and how much goes to the charitable purpose.

Additionally, just 54 percent of report respondents know that gift cards purchased from a gift rack at a big box store, pharmacy or grocery store are not safer from hackers or thieves than those purchased online. In fact, scammers often visit these locations, secretly write down or electronically scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought the cards and activated them. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds. By the time you try to use the same card, the money is long gone. 

Nearly two-thirds of holiday shoppers surveyed also say they will buy holiday gifts using a debit card, despite recommendations to the contrary. Remember: with credit cards, you are liable for only up to $50 of fraudulent use. In the case of a lost or stolen debit card, financial losses can be much more significant.

Source: AARP

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