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Gail Ruth

Gail Ruth
4550 W. Tilghman Street  Allentown  PA 18104
Phone:  610-398-8111
Office:  610-398-8111
Cell:  610-390-5434
Fax:  267-354-6263

My Blog

5 Home Upgrades for $5,000 or Less

April 2, 2015 1:00 am

(BPT) - It's a sobering truth in real estate: sellers often have to spend money to make money. Even if your home is relatively new, you still face costs associated with getting it ready to show, such as repainting interior rooms or hiring professional cleaners and stagers. If your home could use some TLC and updating, spending as little as $5,000 on key upgrades could improve its appeal for buyers - and ensure a speedier sale at a better price.

Here are five upgrades you can make for under than $5,000 to help put your home at the top of every buyer's must-see list.

1. Upgrade Your Entryway
Replacing an old, dated or worn entry door can be a cost-effective way to ensure buyers get a good first impression when they walk in your house. Whether you choose a fiberglass, wooden or steel model, installing a new entry door can cost a few thousand dollars, yet the return on investment at the time of resale can be significant. A fiberglass entry door returns about 72 percent of its investment, while a steel door recoups more than 100 percent of its value, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value report.

Enhance your new door with attractive plantings, fresh paint and clean windows around the entryway to create a memorable, attractive entry for just a few thousand dollars.

2. Increase Natural Light
More buyers are becoming aware of the mood- and productivity-enhancing benefits of natural light, and homes with big, bright windows have always been in demand. Adding windows to a room can be a costly, time-consuming affair. Not so with a skylight. For well under $5,000 and in just a day or two, a professional can install an Energy Star-qualified, solar-powered, no-leak fresh air skylight, Professional installation costs nationally range from around $900 to $2,325, with an average of $1,400, according to HomeAdvisor.com.

The most popular rooms in the home for fresh air skylights are baths, where they provide privacy in addition to natural light, and kitchens, where they vent cooking odors and humidity naturally while brightening a much-used workspace.

3. Beautify a Master Bathroom
Bathrooms and kitchens sell homes. Making a few cosmetic upgrades to even a small master bath can help increase a home's appeal and value. For less than $5,000 you can easily repaint, upgrade faucets, replace old cabinet hardware and add decorative touches like designer towels.

In addition, take a look at the floor or countertops - two cost-effective upgrades that can wow buyers. Since counters don't make up that much square footage in most bathrooms, replacing them with granite can cost just a couple thousand dollars. Tile flooring is also a relatively inexpensive way to improve a bathroom's look and usability.

4. Heat Things Up in the Kitchen
Kitchen remodels can offer high ROI for sellers, but a full remodel may be outside your budget. If you've already done the obvious - like repainting and de-cluttering - it's time to look for a few more cost-effective improvements that will appeal to buyers.

Shabby, outdated appliances can hinder a speedy sale, so consider replacing them with new ones. You don't necessarily need to install top-of-the-line, high-priced appliances to make a good impression, either. Newer, Energy Star-qualified appliances represent savings for buyers down the road.

5. Lavish Landscaping
No single aspect of your home has a greater impact on a buyer's first impression than the landscaping. A great front yard sets the tone for the rest of the home, appealing to buyers on a number of levels, including beauty, practicality and savings.

With $5,000, you can accomplish a lot in terms of landscaping. You can sod a small front yard, add decorative planting beds to a lush lawn, or even install shade trees that will both beautify the yard and enhance the home's energy efficiency in summer.

Decorative concrete stamping of walkways and driveways is another cost-effective way to improve a home's curb appeal.
Whether it's a buyer's market or a seller's market, no one wants to see their home linger long before selling. A few simple upgrades can help ensure your home gets plenty of attention this selling season.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Sidestep Awkward Money Situations

April 1, 2015 12:24 am

When it comes to finances, most of us have likely encountered at least one awkward money situation. In fact, according to a recent CouponCabin.com survey, nearly half of U.S. adults have avoided a person or situation because they knew it would create an “awkward money moment.”

American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) recommends these tips for navigating through the most common sticky financial situations.

1. Questioning the Cost of a Purchase
When someone asks, “How much did that cost?” and you’re not comfortable saying, use humor or something vague like, “A lot more than I wish it had been.” Remember, often times these individuals are not being nosey, but may want to conduct their own research. For instance, a friend may be seeking to buy a home in the neighborhood and would like to know what you recently paid for your home.

If you do decide to divulge the information, do so in a more educational manner by sharing how you were able to make the large purchase – years that you saved, amount of down payment, mortgage options, etc.

2. Splitting the Bill
When going out to eat with a group, plan ahead and bring cash so that you can escape the awkward conversation about splitting the bill. Pay your way efficiently and avoid paying more than your share. If there is a large disparity between the amount that each person spent, then you can suggest that everyone pays what they owe rather than an even split.

Apps such as Splitwise or Foodivide can help to determine the exact amounts to split after a meal. If you prefer to transfer money directly to a friend or family member at the table, try using apps such as Venmo or PayPal which allow you to automatically transfer funds using the person’s email or phone number.

3. Declining Invitations to Vacations or Social Events
Everyone has been invited to lavish dinners or activities that might be well out of budget. Rather than immediately declining, present alternative options that are both fun and affordable. For instance, rather than attending a concert that may cost upwards of $200 for the ticket alone, opt for a night out to hear some local music or stay in and cook dinner and listen to the album.

No matter what, be honest. When asked to join an event, vacation or expensive outing, say you’re actively trying to save money and that you are unable to attend. It’s worse to commit and then not end up having the money to participate.

4. Lending to Family and Friends
Be honest about your own financial situation and open about your decision of either lending or not lending. At times you may have to fib a little as to not hurt the recipient’s feelings, but hopefully they will respect your honesty and your decision.

Set the expectations up front. How much are you willing to loan? If this truly is a loan or has been presented as such, be clear of that. With a loan there are expectations that must be met, such as the time the loan has to be paid back and if there will be interest on the loan amount. If necessary, write up the terms of the agreement and have both parties sign.

Always discuss with a partner or spouse before agreeing to the loan. Remember your spouse or significant other may not feel as strongly about lending money, which could lead to stress in the relationship. If this becomes an issue, be honest with the person and tell them that you are unable to give them the loan.

Source: ACCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgage Accessibility Expectations Hit Record High

April 1, 2015 12:24 am

More than half (54 percent) of respondents in a recent Fannie Mae National Housing Survey™ believe it would be easy to get a home mortgage, a record-high trend bearing out amid continued strengthening in employment and overall housing sentiment.

“We continue to see strength in attitudes about the current home buying and selling environment and consistently high shares of consumers saying they expect to buy a home on their next move,” says Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae.

According to the survey, the share of respondents who say mortgage rates will go up in the next 12 months increased to 48 percent. Those who say it is a good time to buy a house remained at 67 percent. Those who say it is a good time to sell decreased by 4 percentage points to 40 percent.

The share of respondents who say home prices will go up in the next 12 months fell to 46 percent. The share of respondents who believe the economy is headed in the right direction increased three percentage points to an all-time survey high of 47 percent.

Source: Fannie Mae

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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HVAC Cleaning Boosts Energy Savings

April 1, 2015 12:24 am

In the average household, HVAC systems consume approximately 56 percent of energy in the home. Homeowners can save 11 percent or more on energy bills with proper HVAC maintenance, according to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA).

When HVAC systems begin to wear, they operate less efficiently. Additionally, contaminated heating and cooling systems can be problematic for occupants, contributing to poor indoor air quality, system failure, and increased energy use.

A complete and proper cleaning will remove built-up particulate and contaminants, improving indoor air quality and maximizing system efficiency. Industry standards include a complete cleaning to include replacing the filter and cleaning the ductwork from where the air enters the return duct, through the air handler (blower, coil, and head exchange) and to the exit, where the air is released to condition the home.

Source: NADCA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Invest Gas Savings into Your Vehicle

March 31, 2015 12:18 am

If your wallet feels a little heavier these days, it’s probably because you’ve been spending a lot less at the pump. Did you know that if you spend some of those gas savings on auto care you can save even more in the long run?

“Gas prices are lower than they have been for nearly six years and that means big savings for motorists,” says Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Add to that a proactive auto care plan and you will not only save more now, but as gas prices start to rise again, you’ll save later.”

The Car Care Council encourages motorists to put those gas savings to good use with these tips:

Motor Oil: Improve gas mileage by 1-2 percent by using the grade of motor oil recommended by the manufacturer.

Air Filters: Replacing clogged air filters on older vehicles can improve fuel economy and will improve performance and acceleration on all vehicles.

Gas Cap: Damaged, loose or missing gas caps allow gas to vaporize into the air.

Fix It: Addressing a serious maintenance problem, like a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage by as much as 40 percent, according to FuelEconomy.gov.

In addition to vehicle maintenance, modifying driving habits, such as observing the speed limit and avoiding quick stops and starts, can also increase fuel efficiency. Consolidating trips, avoiding excessive idling and removing unnecessary items from the trunk are also easy ways to lower fuel consumption.

Source: Car Care Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Middle-Class Households Best at Saving

March 31, 2015 12:18 am

More than one-third (35 percent) of middle-class households with an annual income between $50,000 and $74,999 are saving more than 10 percent of their incomes, a rate that outpaces even the highest-income households, according to a recent report by Bankrate.com. However, just half of Americans are saving no more than five percent of their incomes. Roughly one in five (18 percent) are saving nothing at all.

“This proves the old adage that what counts isn’t how much you make, but how much you have left over,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com.

Overall, fewer than one in four Americans (24 percent) are saving more than 10 percent of their incomes. That figure includes 14 percent (one in seven) who are saving more than 15 percent.

Those in the western U.S. are out-saving their counterparts elsewhere; 31 percent of westerners are saving more than 10 percent of their incomes, compared with just 20 percent of southerners. However, just 19 percent of westerners aren’t saving anything.

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Ways to Maximize Garage Space

March 31, 2015 12:18 am

(Family Features) The U.S. Department of Energy cites 25 percent of homeowners with two-car garages have too much clutter to store vehicles, and 32 percent only have room for one vehicle.

"It's ironic that many of us would rather store our boxes of unwanted stuff in our garage, leaving our valuable cars outside to deal with the elements," says Lorie Marrero, professional organizer and author of The Clutter Diet. "Let's rethink our storage priorities and turn our garage into a space that's more organized and functional."

Maximizing garage space doesn’t have to be a chore. Marrero recommends three simple steps to make the most of storage space in your garage.

1. Clear the Floor
"Wire shelving is the perfect choice for 'DIYers' in need of a garage makeover," says Marrero. "It is flexible and can be customized to fit in all types of spaces, suits any climate and is easy to keep clean."

Since floor space is at a premium, get things off the floor and onto the wall. One option is heavy duty wire shelving, which can withstand the weight of some of your heaviest things and adapt to changing storage needs. This shelving will allow air to ventilate and is not affected by the humidity or sudden fluctuations in temperature.

Limit the dirt tracked inside the house with an area rug or repurposed carpet. For many, the garage serves as the main entry point into the home, so be prudent and keep the entryway as clean as possible.

2. Store Hazardous Materials
Things like poisonous pesticides and anti-freeze or dangerous tools like hedge trimmers and power tools should be hidden safely out of reach from children and pets. Find a home for these items with heavy-duty cabinets.

3. Organize Smaller Items
Can't find your wrench or screw driver? Use a peg board to keep your favorite hand tools neatly stored and easily accessible. Hooks are another great way to keep track of your belongings. Use them freely for stowing hoses, extension cords, bicycles and step ladders.

Source: ClosetMaid

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Parents: Are You Over-Sharenting?

March 30, 2015 12:12 am

Some of social media’s greatest stars aren’t even old enough to tweet. More than half of mothers and a third of fathers discuss child health and parenting on social media, adding to the growing segment of parents online dubbed “sharents,” according to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.



“By the time children are old enough to use social media themselves many already have a digital identity created for them by their parents,” says Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., associate director of the Mott Poll. But how far is too far when it comes to crossing the boundaries between public and private life?

“On one hand, social media offers today’s parents an outlet they find incredibly useful. On the other hand, some are concerned that over-sharing may pose safety and privacy risks for their children,” says Clark.

When sharing parenting advice on social media, common topics included getting kids to sleep (28 percent), nutrition and eating tips (26 percent), discipline (19 percent), daycare/preschool (17 percent) and behavior problems (13 percent), according to the Mott poll that surveyed a national sample of parents of children aged 0-4. Nearly 70 percent of parents said they use social media to get advice from other more experienced parents and 62 percent said it helped them worry less.

However, parents also recognized potential pitfalls of sharing information about their children, with nearly two-thirds concerned someone would learn private information about their child or share photos of their child. More than half also worried that when older, their child may be embarrassed by what was shared.

Three-quarters of parents polled pointed to “over-sharenting” by another parent, including parents who shared embarrassing stories.

Source: MottChildren.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Taking the Guesswork Out of Backsplash Design

March 30, 2015 12:12 am

(BPT) - The kitchen is the heart of the home and a top-selling feature with homebuyers. Whether you've just completed a remodel or you're looking for ways to upgrade your existing kitchen, a tile backsplash will instantly transform the space, says Kirsty Froelich, design director of The Tile Shop.



To design a show-stopping backsplash, Froelich recommends determining your style profile by looking at Houzz, Pinterest and home magazines to learn which styles you’re drawn to. Attend your local Parade of Homes, or visit a showroom environment to view multiple styled vignettes.

When considering tile or stone, think about whether you want the backsplash to be a focal point. If you're looking to make a statement, clean and tumbled white marble is on-trend, slate is comforting and earthy, and metallics are eye-catching and contemporary. For an even greater personal touch, consider designs with color, patchwork, patterns or pop art. For those who prefer a subdued look, subway tiles in neutral tones are timeless.



It’s important to know your budget, says Froelich. Convey your visions and cost parameters to any contractors or interior designers you plan to work with. Bring a sample of your cabinetry and countertop or a picture of your kitchen to the designer or showroom you're working with. It will help them maximize your budget while achieving your vision.

If you prefer a material that is low maintenance, Froelich suggests ceramic tile. If you are drawn to the beauty of natural stone, keep in mind that it will need annual maintenance, including resealing the surface to ensure the product's integrity and beauty last.

When finalizing your design, consider adding unique characteristics based on location. Above the sink or cooktop are good places to do something more decorative, says Froelich. To make a statement, you may decide to add a niche with a cutout that has tile on the interior that matches the exterior tile or create a picture frame design using a completely different style of tile and stone.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Tips for the Final Walk-Through

March 30, 2015 12:12 am

The final walk-through is an important part of the home buying process. This step gives a buyer the opportunity to assess the home top-to-bottom before closing. Although a home inspector can accompany a buyer during the final walk-through, it’s essential for the buyer to evaluate the home as an inspector would.



To successfully complete the final walk-through, keep in mind these tips.



1. Have your contract, inspection report and any seller disclosures handy when walking through the home. These documents will help you determine if any new issues developed after the inspection, and which repairs, if any, were included in the agreement.



2.
Inspect both the exterior and interior of the home, paying special attention to any issues the seller agreed to resolve before closing. This is crucial, especially if the seller has already vacated. Spend some time assessing the landscape and grounds, as well as confirming that all doors and windows not only open and close properly, but are also secure.



3. Inside the home, test the HVAC system and all appliances included in the contract. Turn on and off all lights, both inside and outside, and check the temperature and water pressure for all faucets. Remember to flush toilets to ensure there are no drips or leaks.



4. Before completing the final walk-through, be sure to ask for working keys to every door, alarm codes, garage openers and any appliance or system manuals. It’s also a good idea to ask for copies of receipts for any repairs the sellers paid for.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall



Published with permission from RISMedia.


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