RE/MAX 440
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

The Ideal Home for Millennials

January 22, 2016 12:58 am

Every generation has had their own set of preferences when defining the “ideal” home, and the next generation of homeowners—millennials—are no exception. But what would a millennial’s ideal home look like?

Enter the Responsive Home project, a collaboration between BUILDER magazine and Pardee Homes, to answer that question. The recently completed project called upon design professionals to develop concept homes that appeal to millennial tastes. The result is the “Contemporary Farmhouse” and the “Contemporary Transitional,” both of which offer adaptable floor plan options, smart home technology and indoor-outdoor flow.

The concept homes also include features like:

• Bedroom Suites (Complete with full bath, kitchenette and outside entrance)

• Casitas (Complete with covered private patio, small kitchen, full bath and adjoining fitness room)

• Electric Car Chargers

• “Flex” Spaces (Convertible area to accommodate long- or short-term rentals, or growing families)

• Retractable Doors

• Roof Sensors (Detect rain and communicate to a garden irrigation system to conserve water) 

“Designed based on the exclusive insights of our target buyer, millennials, this project is the intersection of insights and collaboration among researchers, designers, builders, architects and more,” says Klif Andrews, spokesperson for Pardee Homes. “Through this process, we’ve defined the concept of a ‘responsive’ home.”

Source: Hanley Wood

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Homeowners: Beware of Post-Disaster Housing Scams

January 22, 2016 12:58 am

Scams are often the furthest thought from the mind of a homeowner in the wake of disaster—and fraudsters time and again use this vulnerability to their advantage, preying on those impacted. Common post-disaster fraud practices, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), include:

- Bogus Pleas for Post-Disaster Donations
- Fake Offers of State or Federal Aid
- Fraudulent Building Contractors
- Phony Housing Inspectors

To avoid hiring a fraudulent building contractor for repairs, look for licensed local contractors backed by reliable references. Demand that contractors carry general liability insurance and workers’ compensation, and don’t pay more than half the costs of repairs upfront.

To avoid hiring a phony housing inspector, who may claim to represent FEMA, verify that the inspector has your nine-digit registration number (given to all disaster relief applicants). Keep in mind FEMA inspectors never require banking or other personal information, and that they do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs. They also do not determine eligibility for assistance.

Source: FEMA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Nearing Retirement? How to Navigate Pension Payouts

January 21, 2016 1:13 am

Those fortunate enough to have pension plans have payout options come retirement. It’s important to understand those options in order to make informed decisions—and choosing the right option for you can help ensure financial security in retirement.

“Retirees are increasingly being faced with the difficult one-time choice to either take their pension payments in a lump sum or as a lifetime income stream,” says Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). “Clear information about the trade-offs they face can help consumers make the right financial decision for their retirement security.”

Many employees in the private sector are covered by defined benefit pension plans in which retirement benefits are typically based on years of service and earnings, and paid out in the form of lifetime monthly payments. Increasingly, employers are giving consumers eligible for retirement benefits the option of a one-time payment for all or a portion of their pension, commonly known as a lump-sum payout.

The monthly payment option offers steady lifetime income, which substantially reduces the risk of running out of money later in life. This is especially important if you or your spouse is in good health, or if either of you have a family history of longevity. A lump-sum payout, however, might make sense if you or your spouse is terminally ill or in critically poor health, or if you already have sufficient income to cover basic living expenses.

If you choose a lump-sum pension payout instead of monthly payments, the responsibility for managing the money shifts from your employer to you. In the monthly payment option, you don’t need to worry about a lack of investment skills, or how your financial management skills may change as you age. In contrast, a lump-sum payout can give you the flexibility of choosing to pay off large debts, where to invest or save the money, and when and how much to withdraw.

Keep in mind that pensions are typically insured by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). In the event your company declares bankruptcy or otherwise cannot make its pension payments, the PBGC guarantees those payments up to a certain amount. Pension payments are also protected against certain creditor claims or debt collectors. With a lump-sum payout, you lose these protections.

If you elect the lump-sum option, it’s important to check for calculation errors. Many factors determine a lump-sum payment amount, including age, years of work, earnings history, taxes withheld, and the terms of the plan. You can detect errors by taking a look at your most recent pension statement, or by contacting a pension counselor for assistance or to resolve errors.

The lump-sum option also means you’ll have to pay taxes on the payout. This money is generally treated as ordinary income for that year. For this reason, an employer is required to withhold 20 percent on the amount.

In addition, you may have to pay a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty tax if you have not reached age 59½. You can defer income taxes on your lump sum by rolling over the funds into a qualified retirement account.

Source: CFPB.gov

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Hacks to Supersize a Tiny Bathroom

January 21, 2016 1:13 am

Bathroom remodels require their fair share of the stake, and if you have a tiny bathroom, that can mean forking over big bucks solely for demolition. Yikes!

But before you knock down any walls, consider these supersizing tricks professional remodelers use—without actually increasing square footage:

• Tile size and pattern can either grow or diminish spaciousness. Conventional wall tiles are 4-inches by 4-inches, which, to the eye, appear smaller than they should. To increase the sense of space in the bathroom, use bigger, glossy wall tiles, like ceramic or granite, in a largely uninterrupted pattern.

• Lighter colors create the impression of more space. To play into this effect, select floor tile that are lighter in color, and arrange them diagonally to give the illusion of more space.

• Tiny bathrooms lack the space for a full-sized bathtub, so don’t try to squeeze one in. Instead, install a compartment shower with glass walls. These allow the occupant to see the room wall to wall, without their line of sight cut off by a curtain or door.

• Strategically-placed lighting can also add spaciousness. To make the most of your tiny bathroom, install wall fixtures, rather than overhead lighting. Wall lighting illuminates the bathroom at eye level; overhead lighting can cast shadows, lending a cramped feel to the space.

Source: Cornerstone Design & Remodel

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Fire Elements, Kitchen Add-Ons Heat Up Outdoor Living

January 21, 2016 1:13 am

More homeowners than ever are incorporating outdoor living spaces into the design of their homes—and with the outdoor living market expected to top $5.7 billion this year, it’s safe to say the trend isn’t fading any time soon.

“The trend used to be toward bringing the outdoors in, but many people today are doing the opposite—bringing traditionally indoor comforts out to the deck, porch or patio,” says Paul Lafrance, host of HGTV Canada’s “Decked Out” and “Disaster Decks,” and a “Trexpert” for Trex Company, a leader in outdoor living. “Thanks to advances in all-weather materials, furnishings and accessories, you can outfit an outdoor living space in much the same way that you would any room in the home.”

The most popular indoor-turned-outdoor room? The kitchen, says Lafrance—this time with cooking apparatus that can handle anything from whole turkeys to smoked meats, and even pizzas.

“The whole concept of outdoor cooking has grown far beyond a backyard barbecue,” Lafrance says. “Homeowners are hungry for fully-appointed kitchens with features like integrated trash bins, ice chests and cabinetry that add convenience and luxury. They also help to keep an outdoor space organized and reduce all those pesky trips back and forth into the house."

A similarly hot trend is warming features, including candles, tiki torches and fireplaces—accents that lend physical and ambient warmth, says Lafrance’s television counterpart Kate Campbell.

“Fire features not only add ambiance to an outdoor space, but also provide heat and light that allows you to use your deck later into the evening and into the year,” says Campbell. “Fire pits and fireplaces also provide great focal points and natural gathering spots for conversation and, of course, s'mores!

Campbell also notes a growing demand for deck features like integrated benches, privacy walls, and ornamental post caps and railings with decorative balusters, similar to those found inside the home.

“One of my favorite things to do with an outdoor space is to create a comfort zone, such as a hammock area or a conversation nook with built-in lounges—somewhere cozy with lots of pillows where you can curl up with a good book, or a good friend,” Campbell says. “I also am a fan of defining different functional spaces outdoors. Weather-proof draperies are a great way to inject color and pattern and create distinct spaces. Another option is adding a pergola.”

To make an outdoor space truly feel like an extension of the home, Campbell suggests mixing in interior-inspired accents, like decorative outdoor area rugs, cushions, pillows and throw blankets made of weather-resistant materials. "Add personality and color with plants, flowers, artwork and whimsical accessories, just as you would inside,” says Campbell.

Source: Trex Company, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Survey: Volunteerism Sparks Improved Well-Being

January 20, 2016 12:34 am

Volunteering has countless benefits for both underserved communities and the individuals who devote time to bettering them. “Giving and Getting Back: Volunteering in America,” a recent survey, pinpoints what those mutual benefits are, as well as the patterns that shape volunteerism today.

And the findings may surprise you! Survey results suggest, for example, that volunteering may be the new Match.com. (Really!) Eighty (80) percent of respondents to the survey say they’re more willing to date a person they met volunteering than through an online dating site—and nearly 85 percent of respondents report feeling more comfortable going on a date with a fellow volunteer than being set up on a blind date by a relative or friend.

Volunteering may also give your career a boost. Survey results show that volunteering, a valuable addition to a resume, has led to increased networking opportunities and improved job skills for approximately one-third of respondents. What’s more, 10 percent of respondents received new employment offers while volunteering, and 8 percent changed careers altogether as a result of their volunteering efforts!

Volunteering can whip you into shape, too. In fact, nearly one in four respondents to the survey believes volunteering helped them become more physically active. Nearly half of respondents would consider volunteering for a challenging physical activity in the future, as well, such as runs, cycling or triathlons, to raise funds for a cause.

Above all, volunteering leads to a heightened sense of purpose. Survey respondents report a tangible increase in their overall sense of happiness, accomplishment and spiritual fulfillment when volunteering. Who can argue with those benefits?

Source: LLS.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Tips to Reduce Flood Damage

January 20, 2016 12:34 am

Most homeowners become concerned when winter storms threaten snow and ice damage to their property. What they’re often less concerned about is water damage, which can be just as detrimental to a home as snow and ice buildup.

Water, no matter how much or how little, can cause foundation damage, mold growth, musty smells and damage to tools and furniture. A damp area can also attract pests, which can cause severe damage to the structure of your home. High relative humidity (RH) in wet spaces can also lead to rust on tools and other metal objects, and even cause electronics to fail.

 Areas of your home that may flood—a basement or crawlspace, for instance—must be outfitted to ensure adequate drying. To do that, most homeowners can:

• Patch Leaks – If the source of a leak is obvious and small, perform patching to repair them. (If cracks are widespread or there are signs foundation damage has already occurred, it’s best to call a professional.)

• Clear Drains – If your home has a clogged French drain (or no sump pump), the water will have no way to exit your property. Be sure to clear drains of any debris, and consider installing a sump pump if flooding is a frequent occurrence in your area.

• Dehumidify the Air – The only real way to remove moisture from the air is with a dehumidifier. Purchase a high-capacity dehumidifier to protect your home from the damaging effects of excess moisture.

Source: Aprilaire

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Improvements for the Most-Used Rooms in Your Home

January 20, 2016 12:34 am

When it comes to home renovation, it’s smart to focus on improving the areas that see the most use, not only for increased functionality and enjoyment, but also to boost the home’s value come resale. Kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms and game rooms top the list of rooms homeowners would most like to remodel, according to a recent Ranker.com survey.

To better the most-used areas of your home, including those cited in the survey, consider the following:

1. Boost Air Quality – Air flow is critical to the health of your home and everyone who lives in it. Ventilation in kitchens and bathrooms carries away excess moisture that can cause mold and mildew, and creates a fresher, more healthful environment by exhausting stale indoor air. Bathrooms should be equipped with exhaust fans, and kitchen hoods should vent to the exterior of your home whenever possible.

2. Freshen the “Foundation” – A solid foundation is essential for a home—but that doesn't just mean sturdy flooring. Wall and trim color are fundamental elements in any room. Simply repainting walls and woodwork can completely change the look of a room—even just a fresh coat in the existing color will make the room look brighter and newer.

3. Max Out Storage – Installing organizational systems in rooms where clutter typically collects is an easy, cost-effective way to improve the function of the room. In bedrooms, maximize closet space with ready-made units you can install yourself, or hire a professional closet organizer to custom-fit units to the space.

4. Swap Appliances and Fixtures – Outdated features are not only aesthetically displeasing; they can also cost much more to use than newer models. Replacing old faucets, shower heads, dishwashers and washing machines with energy-efficient alternatives can reduce bills and give kitchens and bathrooms a whole new look.

5. Welcome Natural Light – Most rooms in the home look better with natural lighting, and more daylight can help reduce the need for artificial lighting. Adding skylights and solar-powered window coverings are practical ways to bring more natural light into virtually any room, and you’ll recoup the investment in no time.

Source: Brandpoint

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Lesser-Known Tax Breaks Homeowners Miss

January 19, 2016 12:58 am

Did you know most homeowners can write off all mortgage interest up to $1.1 million for primary and secondary residences, as well as property taxes? Credits for property taxes and other tax breaks are also offered to in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

But mortgage interest and property taxes are not the only tax savings homeowners can enjoy. Look to see if you qualify for other deductions, including:

Discount Points: You can deduct points in the year that you pay them; you can only use this tax break on your primary residence; paying points must be an established business practice in your area.

Profits: In 1997, Congress passed a law that made the first $250,000 in profits ($500,000 for married couples) tax-free as long as you lived in the home for two of the last five years before the sale.

It's important to remember that calculating federal (and local) income taxes can be highly complicated. Any information provided here should always be validated by a licensed tax professional before taking any tax deduction.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports that in 2012, Americans took $68.5 billion in mortgage interest deductions (MID) when filing their tax returns, saving an average of $1,900.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Ways to Cut Winter Heating Bills

January 19, 2016 12:58 am

High winter heating bills can make mincemeat of your budget—but a few tricks can help keep you toasty and warm this winter and keep heating costs under control. Home improvement experts suggest these seven tips:

1. Service the Furnace – Seems like a no-brainer, but many homeowners forget or put off having the furnace checked each fall. Being certain that your system is working efficiently can help save you big bucks.

2. Flip the Ceiling Fan – Warm air rises. While it may seem odd to have the ceiling fan on in cold weather, flipping the switch to spin in a clockwise manner will help to warm up the room.

3. Reflect the Radiator – If you have radiators in your home, place a sheet of aluminum foil behind each one. The radiator will heat the foil, which will reflect heat back into the room.

4. Put a Stop to Drafty Doors – Warm air escapes and cold air enters from the space under your front door. Stop the leakage with a piece of foam pipe insulation cut to the right size. It’s lightweight and easy to remove and reuse as needed.

5. Put a Jacket on Your Water Heater – According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save an average of $20 a month on your heating bill just by wrapping your water heater in an insulating blanket, available at most home stores.

6. Consider the Cost of Exhaust – Using the exhaust fan is a good way to remove humid air from the bathroom after showering, but turn it off as soon as feasible. Using the fans for long periods can run up your heating bill because the warm air pulled out is replaced with cold air, which needs to be heated.

7. Let the Sun Shine In – Many families leave their blinds or drapes closed when they leave home for the day. Letting the daytime sun in–especially in south-facing rooms–can bring in enough warmth to help your rooms stay warmer into the evening even after the window coverings are closed.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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