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Avoid Holiday Home Theft

Although we’d like to believe the holidays bring out peace on earth and good will towards men (as the Christmas carol goes), the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day tend to be a prime season for criminals. During this busy time of year, you can take some easy precautions to prevent becoming a victim of theft.

Consider the following safety tips:

When holiday shopping:

  • Don’t park in unlit areas at night.
  • Put your shopping bags in your trunk. Don’t try to cover items on your seats with a blanket. Better yet, take your packages straight home after a shopping spree and then go back out.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you, or else, keep it in your front pocket not in your purse or wallet.
  • Be extra careful when carrying a purse – they are the prime targets of criminals in crowded shopping areas. If you must carry one, make sure it has a strap that can go over the shoulder and be held under the arm, making them more difficult for purse snatchers to grab.
  • Keep a record of all of your credit card numbers in a safe place at home.
  • Beware of strangers approaching you. This is the time of year when thieves may try various methods to distract you with the intention of taking your money or belongings.

At home:

  • When leaving home for an extended time, have a neighbor or family member watch your house and pick up your newspapers and mail.
  • Leave a light on when you leave your home at night or put your lights (including Christmas lights) on an automatic timer.
  • Make sure your holiday gifts are not visible through the windows and doors of your home.
  • Never say you are away from home on the outgoing message on you answering machine or voice mail. Simply say you are unable to get answer the phone at the time.

During the holidays, many people can become careless and vulnerable to theft and other holiday crime. Protecting yourself and your home from potential crime is the easiest way to ensure a safe and happy holiday season.

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Borrowers seeking a mortgage or looking to refinance increasingly turn to credit unions. These financial institutions are expected to surpass a record-breaking $100 billion in mortgage loan originations this year.

The growth has mostly been attributed to a surge of refinancers and a growth from consumers’ “disillusionment with big banks,” The New York Times reports. Credit unions may offer slightly lower closing costs and be willing to look at a minimum credit score of 625 when other conventional banks are stuck in the 650 range.

Credit unions mostly keep their servicing on all their mortgage loans in-house – an incentive for them to be more responsive to their customers. Here in Berks County many of the credit unions are conveniently located at or close to where people work increasing the desirability to do business with them.

As a broker the loan process is a bit more cumbersome since the processing is down in a different state. It is my opinion; explore all of your options especially if you feel your credit score is not up to par. Always shop around to find the better mortgage to fit your specific needs.

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Special for Lehigh Valley Business REAL ESTATE: Optimism will ring in the New Year

The residential real estate market marked a turning point in 2012 as many industry experts agree stability is returning to the market. What does that mean for 2013? At present, real estate agents in and around the Lehigh Valley admit to an optimistic out­look for the New Year. Monna Lou Henninger, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Heritage Real Estate in Bethlehem Township, is optimistic because inventory continues to get absorbed. “I feel the New Year is going to be a decent year because I believe there is pent-up demand,” she said. “If we have more people looking to buy homes and less homes coming on the market, then the market will change. “It will then become a seller’s market as opposed to a buyer’s market.”

Henninger believes reduced inventory, a high affordability index and a lack of new con­struction bode well for the resale market in the Lehigh Valley. Another real estate agent sees similar poten­tial in the Poconos – once buyers there reduce the glut of current inventory.

“I see an upcoming an increase in sales, not in price,” said Eileen Chaladoff, president of the Pocono Mountains Association of REALTORS and real estate agent with Prudential Associates Real Estate in East Stroudsburg, Monroe County. “Right now we are still trying to get through the distressed properties. Once we get through that, the market should really take off.”

Chaladoff sees steady improvement in sales, but expects the market to take another year or two to clear distressed properties out of the area’s housing stock. That’s a factor that will prevent any appreciation in home sale prices for 2013. The housing stock in New Jersey’s Warren County continues to see brisk activity; a trend one professional hopes will carry over into 2013. “All indications are that the market will be increasing due to the election behind us and people being overwhelmed… (and) the interest rates still being at an all-time low,” said Shelley Mondzak, broker/owner of Re/MAX Supreme in Philipsburg. “We are seeing activity in December, with many multiple offer situations. Many homes, especially things that are going on the market now, are going under contract very quickly. “All indicators are that the first quarter of 2013 will be an increase and, fingers crossed, that does happen.”

Other industry professionals also await deci­sions from Washington on whether proposed tax increases on Jan. 1 and year-end expiration of tax credits (including the mortgage interest deduction) will occur. “The housing market in 2013 will probably look a lot like this year’s in Schuylkill County,” said Kent Hatter, a broker with RE/MAX Five Star Realty of Orwigsburg.

“I think next year is a holding pattern. If people have confidence in their jobs and money in their pockets, the economy will do just fine. But really the uncertainty is what’s hanging over everybody.” Washington’s procrastination in dealing with its fiscal responsibilities fuels that uncertainty for prospective homebuyers and businesses.

“The people I talk to are all looking at this ‘fiscal cliff’ and tax uncertainty not knowing which way to go, so they are not looking to do any moves in their business or speculation,” said Hatter. “It seems we are in this huge pattern of uncertainty. Nobody knows what the tax rates are going to be (or) the health care law, how much money that could take out of people’s disposable incomes.” While Hatter believes buyers remain con­cerned about the economy, he sees a silver lining. “The good news is, from every sign, interest rates are going to remain low,” he said. “A lot of foreclosures nationwide have gone through the process, so I hear from people that in cer­tain price ranges there’s a shortage of homes for sale. So maybe we have seen the housing prices stabilize and that will be good for 2013.” Price stability and reduced inventory just might create the foundation for a solid turn-around in the industry in 2013. “I expect that we are going to see continued growth in sales which means that more of the inventory is going to be absorbed,” said Bill Sands, broker, owner and president of Sands & Co. of Wyomissing, Berks County. “As that becomes absorbed, we’re heading in a slow, moderate procession towards the market changing from a buyer’s market into a seller’s market again because less inventory means more demand.” Sands said certain segments of the Berks’ market see both increasing sales and property values. “We might see some growth as far as the baseline of where our real estate values are and where they will be going,” he says. “In the last quarter of the year, we have seen definite increases and upticks in some of the markets. They are modest but it’s still a good sign. We are very pleased this past year with it being busy and buyers acquiring properties and I have no reason to believe that that’s going to stop.” Activity and optimism also have increased in Carbon County. “We are very optimistic in Carbon County,” said James Zurn, president of the Carbon County Board of REALTORS and agent with Cedar Creek Real Estate in Jim Thorpe. “Our inventory of homes is decreasing, so people are buying homes. The programs that are out there are very, very good. You just need to be able to qualify. With FHA and USDA, people are able to buy homes with little to no money out of pocket.” Zurn does fear continued difficulty with tight lending criteria as well as lingering buyer concerns about job stability. “Homes are at an all-time low; interest rates are at an all-time low,” he said. “That’s good news for the buyers. Those are all good indicators but again no one is going to buy anything if their job is uncertain.” Yet Zurn and other agents remain optimistic about growing activity during the coming year. “We are very optimistic and rightfully so,” he said. “Things are picking up. I think the bottom has been reached and we are going to see it improve. We have a bright future.”

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Reading, Berks County, Home Sales

 Reading Real Estate Sales On The Rise

The National Association of Realtors found Reading to be the second best market in the United States to buy a home, based on price and availability. The median listing price for a home in Reading is $173,700, and the average home spends 149 days on the market, according to the website’s findings.

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Should I Buy or Rent a Home?

Although renting is sometime an easier process, you may want to consider that real estate values and interest rates are at a low.  Prices and rates are starting to edge up slowly; there is no telling where things may be in a year or so.  Another factor you may want to consider is when you make a rental payment the money is gone and you have nothing to show for it other than a place to live. When you make a payment when you are buying a home a portion of the payment is going towards equity and you are paying off your investment. Additionally the interest and taxes are a write –off which can help you. You can discuss the exact tax benefits with your tax professional.

In most rentals you cannot make changes such as paint colors, or the option of having a pet since there is a landlord who controls the property.

On the purchasing side there are many options to explore. FHA allows you the option of putting down only 3.5% of the purchase price and you can ask the seller to assist with your closing cost up to 6% of the purchase price. In most cases this covers the closing cost!  Depending on your income, and the property’s location there is a 100% financing option which is for rurally oriented properties called a USDA Loan. On a 100% financing option you are not required to put any money down and if the seller is willing can still contribute up to 3 % towards your closing cost making the financial aspect of getting into a home extremely easy and very affordable!  The best part of the USDA loan is I believe there is no private mortgage insurance applicable. I would suggest you consult a lender to discuss your options and the various programs based on your personal financial situation.

Bottom line Renting or Buying a home is a personal choice for each individual

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10 Tips for a home that’s Safe and Sound

There is little that is more important than feeling secure in your own home. While we can only control a small bit of the world around us, here’s some basic information to keep a home safe.

The goal of securing your home is two-fold: protecting your possessions, but also protecting the people who live there. Security professionals advise “deter, detect and delay” tactics. These 10 tips cover a lot of ground, so keep them in mind and you will be well on the road to greater peace of mind.

  1. Check your doors, windows and all locks: Deadbolts and secure, steel outer doors are important, as are secure windows that lock. A huge majority of burglaries are no-force entries, where culprits gain access to your home through an unlocked window or door, so check them frequently. Keep trees and shrubbery trimmed to prevent access to windows and decks on upper floors. If a door or window is in an out-of-the-way place that is easily accessible, consider securing it with bars or an outer security door. Simply placing a piece of wood in sliding glass doors or windows can prevent entry. Automatic garage door openers ensure that access to your garage is controlled. Studies show that the more difficult it is to enter the home, the greater the chances are that the burglar will move on.
  2. Have adequate lighting: On the outside of your home, lighted entryways and flood lights with motion sensors ensure that everyone, including you and your neighbors can see who is entering your abode. However, care must be taken to replace burned out or disabled bulbs, and to place such that there is minimal annoyance to neighbors. Inside your home, ensure that there is adequate lighting so intruders are easily visible.
  3. Create limited entries with a perimeter and gate: Gates and fences can provide a feeling of stable security or of paranoia, depending on how they are used. Tasteful fencing can create a feeling of “place” that provides a positive look and feel to your home, while also adding a deterrent and a delay to criminals. Limiting vehicular traffic to your property and creating barriers to individual entry make your valuables more difficult to remove, and cameras at these points of entry can more effectively capture any activity.
  4. Be a friendly and observant neighbor: Neighborhoods with a “community watch” where each person is looking out for the next provide a sense of security. Generally people know each other and who lives where. This activity makes it easier to talk about crime and helps homeowners to solve problems. Let neighbors know that you are crime conscious, and encourage them to be so, too. Provide your neighbor with contact information if you are leaving on vacation so that they can be in touch should there be unusual or unexpected activity around your home.
  5. Be discreet: While you do want neighbors to be informed to some degree, advertising more widely that you will be away from your home is less desirable. When seeking to find a house sitter or pet sitter, avoid advertising the dates of your travel. With an increase in social media and local email lists, people who are outside of your immediate circles could gain access to your plans and make use of that information.
  6. Put on a good show: When you are going to be away from home for any period of time, one deterrent might be to make it look like someone is home. Often people who break in are simply looking to steal valuable items and prefer not to encounter people at all. Keep shades as they would normally be open or closed, and use timers to control lights and even music. Increasingly, “smart home” technology can enable homeowners to control the environment from a distance. Consider stopping deliveries or better yet, have someone stop by daily or stay in the home to pick up mail and newspapers, and to check on the house while you are gone.
  7. Get a dog: In addition to companionship, a dog could be an excellent deterrent to a burglar. Barking serves as an alarm, helping to detect an intruder as well, but often seasoned criminals know how to deal with dogs by feeding them treats (sometimes laced with poison) or locking them in a room. Still, this added unknown might keep a less determined stranger away.
  8. Get a security system: There are many types of systems with and without monitoring available. Some produce loud alarms that are designed to alert neighbors, others are silent and contact police. With the advent of inexpensive cameras, homeowners can set up video surveillance as well. While it is good to have a system in place and to post that a system is in use, beware of giving away too much information so that criminals don’t know which system they are dealing with. Typically these systems monitor entries, but many also include motion sensors. Using these systems requires some understanding on the part of the homeowners so that false alarms are not triggered. Also note, these systems require power to run, so during power outages unless there is a backup power source they will not be functional and other preventative steps will be required.
  9. Get a safe: Using a home safe to secure valuables, guns and ammunition is an excellent idea. Consider using it to store important paperwork, like deeds, wills, other legal documents, social security cards, passports, as well as computer backups and photos. While safes are often quite heavy, ensure that they are bolted down so they might not be easily stolen in their entirety. Safes can also provide critical “delay time” – enabling police to arrive before the contents are looted.
  10. Don’t leave your keys around: If a burglar sees a car in a garage or driveway and the keys are present, the temptation might be too much. In fact, you might be providing a vehicle to take more items than the burglar was intending to originally take! Keys to additional homes or properties are invitations, as well. Have a place for keys that is not well known or easily seen.

Having an eye for security can be like a game. The winning move is to create a home that provides you with a real feeling of security because you have addressed the issues. It isn’t paranoid to “think like a criminal” and imagine that your home is full of valuables. Take the time to follow these tips, and you can deter, detect, and delay crime in your home.