RE/MAX 440
Patty Jo Anzivine
pattyjovine@gmail.com
Patty Jo Anzivine
4550 W. Tilghman Street
Allentown  PA 18104
PH: 610-390-0415
O: 610-398-8111
F: 267-354-6902 
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8 Ways to Scam-Proof Your Next Vacation Home Rental

February 23, 2012 3:50 am

While renting a home instead of booking a hotel room has become a hugely popular choice for vacationers, there is a rising occurrence of vacation home scams to watch out for says Christine Karpinski, author of “How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 2nd Edition.” However, taking certain precautions can greatly reduce this risk. Karpinski offers the following eight tips to help you safely book your vacation home in today’s environment: 

• Beware of super-cheap rates. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The most common way scammers work is by enticing a large number of travelers in a short period of time. They do this by low-balling the rental rates.
• Do some digging to make sure the owner really is the owner. Many states make it easy to look up property tax records. Google the property appraiser in the county where the property is located to make sure the person you are renting from actually owns the property. You might also Google the homeowner’s association and look for a phone number on the website. Call the HOA and ask if the owners really are the owners.
• Cyber-stalk the owner. Do some cross-referencing across various websites: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so forth. Make sure the place of residence (where the owner lives—not where the vacation home is located) is the same as the information the owner provided. 

Also, Karpinski suggests Googling the phone number listed on the advertisement. Many property owners and managers list their homes on many different websites. If you Google the phone number listed on the ad in this format XXX XXX-XXX (area code, space, first three digits, dash, last four digits) many other websites that the property is listed on should show up in search results.
• Look for clues in the reviews. When you are reading the reviews of the property (either on the vacation rental website or on other sites such as TripAdvisor.com), there are sometimes references to the owners’ names. A review might say something like: “Thanks, Tom and Christine, for allowing us to rent your lovely home…” If the names in the reviews do NOT match the name of the person renting the home to you, it could be a sign that something is not right.
• Speak with the owner via phone. Sure, it’s possible to be scammed over the phone. However, it’s usually easier to fool someone when you’re communicating via type. If the owner sounds warm and engaging and seems to know her stuff, you’re probably okay. If she sounds guarded or uncertain, you might have reason to worry. Also, says Karpinski, when you get someone on the phone, you can ask specific questions—and listen carefully to the answers.
• Pay only by credit card. Don’t use PayPal, don’t send a personal check, and NEVER, EVER pay by wire transfer, advises Karpinski.
• Go with one of the major vacation rental websites. You’re probably safest choosing a site like HomeAway, VRBO, FlipKey, or Airbnb. Of course, a respected name doesn’t guarantee a 100 percent safe transaction—there have been instances of owners having their email accounts hijacked by scammers—but the major websites tend to have better safeguards in place.
• Listen to your gut…it’s often right. Do your research. Call the property owner. Listen carefully to everything he or she has to say. If something just feels “off,” move on to another property, advises Karpinski.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Unfairly Foreclosed Upon? Deadline to Request Review Now Extended

February 23, 2012 3:50 am

For those who believe they might have suffered financial injury as a result of errors in foreclosure actions on their homes in 2009 or 2010, the deadline for submitting requests for review under the Independent Foreclosure Review has been extended to July 31, 2012. The announcement of the extension was made yesterday by The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Federal Reserve). The deadline extension provides more time to increase awareness of how eligible people may request a review through the Independent Foreclosure Review process and to encourage the broadest participation possible. 

As part of enforcement actions issued in April 2011, the OCC, Federal Reserve, and the Office of Thrift Supervision required 14 large mortgage servicers to retain independent consultants to conduct a comprehensive review of foreclosure activity in 2009 and 2010 to identify borrowers who may have been financially injured due to errors, misrepresentations, or other deficiencies in the foreclosure process. If the review finds that financial injury occurred, the borrower may receive compensation or other remedy.
 
Borrowers are eligible for an Independent Foreclosure Review if they meet the following basic criteria:
• The mortgage loan was serviced by one of the participating mortgage servicers.
• The mortgage loan was active in the foreclosure process between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010.
• The property securing the mortgage loan was the borrower's primary residence.
Participating mortgage servicers include: America's Servicing Company, Aurora Loan Services, BAC Home Loans Servicing, Bank of America, Beneficial, Chase, Citibank, CitiFinancial, CitiMortgage, Countrywide, EMC, Everbank/Everhome Mortgage Company, Financial Freedom, GMAC Mortgage, HFC, HSBC, IndyMac Mortgage Services, MetLife Bank, National City Mortgage, PNC Mortgage, Sovereign Bank, U.S. Bank, Wachovia Mortgage; Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo; and Wilshire Credit Corporation.

For more information, visit www.occ.gov/independentforeclosurereview.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Survey Reveals Rental Market Outlook

February 22, 2012 3:48 am

According to a new survey from Apartments.com, an increasing number of consumers continue to look toward renting as a viable option in today’s market, considering it to be an affordable, flexible lifestyle choice. This higher demand for apartment housing means increased renting costs across the nation. In response to this news, Apartments.com conducted a national survey to more than 3,000 of its January website visitors to find out about their 2012 moving plans, including reasons they are moving, why they are opting to rent versus own property, when they plan to move and which tools they value most during their apartment search. 

Supporting a growing trend, 33.6 percent of respondents looking for an apartment this year said they are previous homeowners (up from 20.5 percent in 2011). From the survey respondents who said they are homeowners looking to rent in 2012, 26.3 percent are doing so because they believe renting is a more affordable option and 21.2 percent prefer the flexibility renting offers in choosing where to live. 

Apartments.com provides the five most popular responses why their website visitors are choosing to rent versus own in 2012: 

- Renting is a more affordable option: (26.3 percent)
- Flexibility to live where I choose: (21.2 percent)
- To relocate for employment: (20.5 percent)
- Cannot afford to keep up with homeownership expenses: (10.5 percent)
- Lost home due to foreclosure and change in marital status: (less than 4 percent each) 

More than 35 percent of respondents indicated they are moving out on their own – whether for the first time or back into their own place – which may be a sign of an improving economy and job market, especially in the rental demographic. Reinforcing that idea is the fact that 23 percent of renters surveyed reported they are relocating for employment opportunities – making that the number one reason for moving in 2012, as it was in 2011. However, the desire to have more space, to save money and to live in a more desirable neighborhood also topped the list. Apartments.com provides the five most popular responses why their website visitors are moving in 2012: 

- Relocating for employment opportunities: (23 percent)
- Looking for a bigger apartment: (11.9 percent)
- Shopping for a less expensive apartment: (11.3 percent)
- Wanting to live in a more desirable neighborhood: (10.6 percent)
- Change in marital status: (8.8 percent)

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Credit Card Debt Rivals Emergency Savings

February 22, 2012 3:48 am

Only 54 percent of Americans have more emergency savings than credit card debt, according to a recent poll from Bankrate.com. One in four Americans (25 percent) has more credit card debt than emergency savings and 16 percent have neither credit card debt nor emergency savings. 

Bankrate's monthly Financial Security Index held at 97.3, unchanged from January and tied for the highest level since June 2011. Any reading below 100 indicates a lower level of financial security compared with 12 months earlier. 

Despite four straight months of improving sentiment, consumers' overall financial situation is still seen as negative. Twenty-seven percent of Americans report a lower level of financial security now versus one year ago and 24 percent report a higher level. Thirty-eight percent of Americans are less comfortable with their savings now compared with one year ago; only 14 percent are more comfortable. 

Additional survey findings included:
Job Security: Consumers are slightly positive, with 20 percent feeling more secure than one year ago and 19 percent feeling less secure (up from 17 percent in January). 

Savings: Consumers have reported less negativity about their savings in each of the past three months, with fewer feeling less comfortable and more feeling about the same as 12 months ago. 

Debt and Net Worth: Both were little changed from January and maintain essentially neutral readings. 

Credit Card Debt vs. Emergency Savings
- Households with income of $75,000 or more per year, college graduates and retirees are the most likely to have more in emergency savings than credit card debt.
- Parents are the most likely to have more credit card debt than emergency savings.
- Those most likely to have neither credit card debt nor emergency savings are households with income of less than $30,000 per year, those with a high school education or less and the unemployed.
- In a similar Bankrate poll conducted in February 2011, 52 percent of Americans had more emergency savings than credit card debt. Twenty-three percent had more credit card debt than emergency savings and 19 percent had neither credit card debt nor emergency savings. 

The new study was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI).

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Attitudes Toward Economy Improving, Says Survey

February 22, 2012 3:48 am

According to the latest Harris Poll online survey of 2,056 adults, the general feeling toward the economy and employment is gradually improving. 

Over one-third of Americans (36 percent) say they expect the economy to improve in the coming year while two in five (40 percent) say it will remain the same and one-quarter (24 percent) believe it will get worse. These statistics are based on December survey results when one-quarter of U.S. adults (23 percent) believed the economy would improve, almost half (47 percent) felt it would stay the same and three in ten (29 percent) thought it would get worse. 

Perceptions of the job market are also improving, albeit a little more slowly. Three in five Americans (59 percent) rate the current job market of their region of the country as bad, 16percent say it is good and one-quarter (25 percent) say it is neither good nor bad. In January, almost two-thirds of U.S. adults (65 percent) felt the job market in their region was bad and 14percent felt it was good. This is the first time since July of 2008 that the percentage of those who think the job market in their region is bad is below 60 percent. 

Looking ahead, there is also a sense of optimism on where the job market is heading. One-third of Americans (32 percent) believe the job market in their region of the nation will get better in the next six months, half (51 percent) say it will stay the same and 17 percent believe it will get worse. Last month, just one-quarter (27 percent) felt the job market would get better, over half (53 percent) felt it would remain the same and one in five (21 percent) felt it would get worse. 

Finally, feelings about whether the country is still in a recession or not are also improving. In September, seven in ten Americans (69 percent) felt the country was still in a recession, while one in ten each felt that the U.S. came out of a recession but will now enter a new recession (11 percent) and the country has come out of the recession and the economy is growing (10 percent). A few months later and, while over half of Americans (56percent) still think the country is in a recession, one-quarter (24 percent) believe the country has come out of the recession and the economy is growing and just 8 percent believe the U.S. has come out of a recession but will enter a new one.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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A Fresh Assessment

February 21, 2012 3:48 am

By Keith Loria

Let’s say you just purchased a new home that has a large property tax commitment. You may be able to do something about it. In today’s housing market, having the property reassessed is very in vogue.

“A tax assessment is an estimate on the value of your property solely for the purpose of determining how much you owe in property taxes,” says Peter Hoegen, an attorney with Hoegen & Associates, PC in Pennsylvania who specializes in tax assessments.

It’s a good bet that you may have bought the house for a price lower than the property value, so sometimes taxes can be lowered if the value has changed.

Not that it’s only about the taxes. Another reason for a reassessment is for insurance purposes, to make sure the home has an appropriate level of coverage. A third reason might be due to the changes in value that the downturn in the economy has caused.

For those who may be thinking of selling, an assessment is a good way to learn if the house is worth more than one even owes, and can provide valuable data for one looking to get a lower mortgage rate.
“If you are thinking of having your home assessed for possible readjusting of the value, it’s important to understand the protocols and timelines that your city or state has, because all are different,” Hoegen says.

The first step is to begin with the county assessor’s office. In 2012, the process has become much simpler for some, as more places are allowing you to appeal online. If that’s not an option, plan a visit to your local assessor’s office to register for an appeal.

The most common way this is done is by someone coming out and inspecting the property and comparing it to neighboring houses. Some will rely on computer models, but that could be problematic because you’re not seeing everything that can be viewed with the naked eye.

Although the appeal process itself can be relatively quick if it’s clear that a change needs to be made, actually having someone come out to your property to perform the assessment can take anywhere from a month to a year, depending on the amount of people following suit. In today’s housing market, with property values decreasing in many areas, more people are turning to reassessments to get their taxes down.

When making your case for a lower value, have at the ready documents that show what homes in the neighborhood have sold for. Prices of comparable homes that have sold in the past six months up to a year will be most helpful to build your case. Much of this data can be found on the Internet, but your real estate agent who helped you buy the home can help as well.

Remember, assessed value is often not equal to market value. Many times, an assessment is only a percentage of what the home could actually be sold for, so appealing might not be as financially advantageous as you think it will be. The last thing you want is for your taxes to rise because the house is worth more.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Gen Y to Spur Real Estate Growth

February 21, 2012 3:48 am

According to experts with the University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate, population growth and demographic shifts, particularly the ongoing maturation of a diverse, well-educated Gen Y, will drive improvements in the real estate market over the next 10 years.

Additionally, Lusk Center Chairman of the Board Stan Ross points out that immigrants were responsible for 25 percent of America's high-tech startup companies between 1995 and 2005 and 25 percent of American's international patents.

Despite a slight dip in immigration during the recession of 2007-09, the 2010 Census showed the U.S. population grew 9.7 percent to 308,745,538 with another 3.4 percent growth predicted for 2011. Ross points out that with its 77.4 million members, Gen Y (current 15-32 year olds) is roughly equal in size to the baby boomers (current 46-64 year olds), but more educated and diverse.

Ross believes that related demographic shifts will support economic growth and market improvements in the region and nationally:
  • Together, baby boomers and Gen Y comprise 50 percent of the population and will soon be part of the largest U.S. wealth transfer ever
  • 60 percent of Gen Y goes to college
  • More than 38 million U.S. residents (12 percent of the population) are foreign born
  • 33 percent of all PhDs and 57 percent of all post-doctorates in science and engineering were awarded by U.S. universities to foreign students
  • About 4.3 million Gen Y residents reached age 22 in 2010
As more of this group enters the workforce over the next 10 years, they will produce a massive increase in housing demand. However, Ross points out that Gen Y will be relatively prudent when it comes to real estate investment.

Gen Y will produce market potential for every residential product except senior housing, an assertion made by the Summer 2010 ULI/Lachman Associates Survey, which found 37 percent are renters; 35 percent are homeowners; 26 percent live with parents/siblings or student housing; and 2 percent live in mobile homes.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What to Ask When Shopping for Homeowners Insurance

February 21, 2012 3:48 am

Being an informed consumer means not only reading your homeowners insurance policy closely, but also asking experts what constitutes the right type, and amount, of coverage you need for your home, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

A qualified insurance agent or insurance company representative can guide you in your choices. Here are six basic questions the I.I.I. advises everyone to ask before buying or renewing a homeowners insurance policy:
  1. How much would it cost to rebuild my home in its current location in the event of a total loss? Your homeowners insurance policy should cover the cost of building a new home from scratch. Your insurance agent or insurance company representative will have knowledge of your neighborhood, and familiarity with the construction materials used when your home was originally built and can accurately calculate this cost. In general, homeowners policies cover partial or total damages caused by fire, hurricane, hail, lightning or any other disaster listed in your policy. Flood and earthquake-related losses must be insured separately because both perils are excluded in standard homeowners insurance policies.
  2. How much is the personal property in my home worth in the event of a total loss? Your homeowners insurance policy should cover the cost of replacing all personal property (furniture, appliances, clothing) should it be stolen or destroyed by fire, hurricane or another insured disaster. Most companies provide personal property coverage equal to about 50 to 70 percent of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your dwelling. So if you have $100,000 worth of dwelling protection, most insurers would recommend $50,000 to $70,000 worth of personal property coverage. The best way to determine if this recommendation is appropriate for your specific situation is to conduct a home inventory. Consider using the I.I.I.’s Know Your Stuff® - Home Inventory app in the iTunes App Store.
  3. How much liability protection do I need? Liability covers you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you, or your family members, cause to other people. It also pays for damage caused by your pets. The liability portion of your policy pays for both the cost of defending you in court and any court awards—up to the limit of your policy. You are also covered not just in your home, but anywhere in the world. Liability limits generally start at about $100,000. Most insurance agents and company representatives recommend that you purchase at least $300,000 worth of liability protection. If you have significant assets and need more liability protection than is offered under the standard homeowners policy limits, ask your agent about umbrella liability.
  4. What level of additional living expense coverage do I need? The Additional Living Expenses (ALE) provision is found in standard homeowners insurance policies. It pays for the costs of living away from home if you cannot reside there due to damage from an insured disaster. ALE covers hotel bills, meals and other expenses over and above your customary living expenses. ALE coverage differs from company to company. Many policies provide coverage equal to about 20 percent of your dwelling protection. For example, if the structure of your home is insured for $100,000, you would have $20,000 of ALE coverage. Some companies impose a time limitation, such as 12 to 24 months.
  5. Should I buy a separate flood and/or earthquake insurance policy? There were numerous flooding events and earthquakes in the U.S. in 2011, but relatively few Americans had coverage for either type of natural disaster because these perils are excluded from standard homeowners insurance policies. Check with your insurance agent or insurance company representative to see whether you might need specialized coverage beyond your standard homeowners insurance policy.
  6. Do I qualify for any discounts? If you have smoke detectors, burglar alarms and/or dead-bolt locks in your home, you can often get a premium rate discount. Sophisticated sprinkler systems and alarms that ring at monitoring stations often reduce your homeowners insurance premium, too. Ask your agent or company representative about discounts available to you. If you are at least 55 years old and retired, for instance, you may qualify for a discount of up to 10 percent at some companies. If you have completely modernized your plumbing or electrical system recently, a few companies may provide a price break.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Building Financial Confidence

February 20, 2012 3:46 am

Taking control of your finances means taking the time to conduct an honest assessment of your financial picture. According to Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Consumer Advocate Eleanor Blayney, CFP®, peel back the layers of your financial life by gathering relevant financial documents, like your most recent tax return, your last paystub, and the latest statements for your retirement and investment accounts, and asking the following questions:
  • What is your gross and net income, and what are your expenses?
  • What do you have in terms of financial assets (savings and investment accounts, real estate, retirement plans, etc.)?
  • What are your debts, both in terms of amounts outstanding as well as what you pay each month?
  • What workplace benefits do you receive?
  • What insurance coverage do you have to protect your health, income, life, property, or need for physical assistance?
  • How are your assets titled and who gets them when you are no longer here?
Answering all these questions at one time, in one place is a key first step to building a sound foundation for a financial plan. As Blayney explains, this exercise will give you a clear picture of your financial starting point so that you can set and meet your financial goals.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Be Productive When Working from Home

February 20, 2012 3:46 am

According to an article in the Kansas City Star, there’s evidence suggesting that more and more employees are seeking opportunities to work from home, while many managers and business owners are still reluctant.

According to the Star, middle managers are fearful that allowing employees to work from home will adversely affect productivity. According to Martha Jenkins, however, this does not necessarily have to be true. Jenkins and her company, Jenkins Coaching, offer practical advice to small business owners and contractors who work from home, helping them make the best use of their time.

According to Jenkins, clear communication and well-understood expectations are essential for making home-based employment work. She offers the following five tips for maximizing the work-from-home experience:
  1. Ensure you know what your employer’s expectations are: See to it that there are no unanswered questions about work hours, breaks, company equipment, and so forth.
  2. Ensure that your results are communicated to your employer: Working long hours will not matter if your boss is not aware of what you accomplish.
  3. Set up an effective work space: Make sure you have a work area that is free of distractions and is also comfortable and separate from the rest of your house.
  4. Establish boundaries with your family and friends: Make sure they are aware of the demands of working from home.
  5. Assess your progress on a regular basis: Record your achievements and mark your progress along the way, and make regular evaluations to your work habits.
Jenkins says working from home is ultimately successful when it is treated like a job. “In order to convince an employer you are serious about it, the bottom line is to behave in as professional a manner as possible.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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