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Edward E. Hodgson Jr.
1110 North Broad Street | Lansdale, PA 19446
Phone: 215-362-2260 | Office Phone: 215-362-2260 | Fax: 267-354-6844
Cell: 215-850-6973 | email: ed@edhodgsonrealtor.com

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Got Allergies? Know Your Antihistamines

May 3, 2012 5:24 am

The sniffling, sneezing and watery eyes of spring send millions of people to the pharmacy for relief. If your allergies aren’t severe enough to warrant a prescription medication, there are countless over-the-counter options available. But which will work best for you? National drug-store chain Rite Aid offers the following guidelines to understanding antihistamines.

First of all, antihistamines fall into two groups: first generation, which has a sedation effect; and second generation, which is likely to cause less drowsiness. Both types are considered as effective as prescription medications. In fact, many of them were formerly only available with a prescription.

First-generation antihistamines, including nonprescription diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), doxylamine, and brompheniramine, may cause substantial drowsiness—enough to make it difficult to think clearly or control your movements—as well as the typical dry mouth and eyes of an antihistamine. Only take this type of medication if you’re spending the day at home.

Second-generation antihistamines include the nonprescription loratadine (Claritin®), cetirizine (Zyrtec®), fexofenadine (Allegra®), and generic versions. Compared with first-generation medicines, many of these are less sedating and some may be more convenient since they continue working for up to 24 hours. According to Rite Aid, however, even newer generation antihistamines cause drowsiness in some people, so proceed with caution.

For multi-symptom allergy sufferers, many antihistamines are available in combination with other medications, such as a decongestant. A decongestant may lessen a first-generation antihistamine’s sedating effect, as well.

Pay close attention to drug interaction warnings. Antihistamines can interact with medications for other conditions—especially sedatives, sleeping pills, and muscle relaxants. Alcohol can also intensify the sedating effect of any antihistamine. In addition, make sure you are not using two products with the same ingredients. For example, a decongestant/antihistamine combination product along with a single ingredient antihistamine product.

If you’re not responding well to an antihistamine, try another one; however, read the label carefully to ensure it offers a different active ingredient.

Lastly, says Rite Aid, if you’d like to avoid medication all together, consider a saline rinse. Known as nasal irrigation, this method flushes out the sinuses and may ease your symptoms.

Source: riteaid.com/allergy

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Foreclosure Sales Low, But Inventory Remains High

May 3, 2012 5:24 am

While March foreclosure starts increased a modest 8.1 percent since last month, overall, they were still down more than 31 percent year-over-year. Also in March, first-time foreclosure starts hit a five-month high. However, despite the increase, the number of first-time foreclosure starts in March was still far below those seen throughout much of 2011 and all of the previous three years.

This information was recently reported via The March Mortgage Monitor report from Lender Processing Services, Inc. (LPS). According to the report, the national foreclosure inventory stayed relatively stable in March, remaining at the historically high levels maintained since the end of 2010. This national performance masks underlying differences between judicial states, where foreclosure inventory levels stand at 6.5 percent, and non-judicial states, where foreclosure inventory levels are more than 2.5 times lower at 2.45 percent.

The March data also showed that mortgage delinquencies have continued to decline, reaching their lowest level since August 2008, with seriously delinquent inventory (loans more than 90 days delinquent) declining in both judicial and non-judicial foreclosure states. Likewise, the rate of new problem loans (seriously delinquent loans that were current six months ago) continues to improve nationally, in both judicial and non-judicial states.

On the origination front, the data showed that February mortgage originations rebounded somewhat from their January lows, and that, despite slightly higher interest rates, prepayments increased in March. Mortgage prepayment activity – a key indicator of mortgage refinances – increased broadly, across all investor categories.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Four Killer Questions to ask Your Agent

May 3, 2012 5:24 am

As prices slowly start to rise and inventory begins to shrink in many areas, you may finally be ready to put your home on the market. However, selling your home in today’s gradually recovering market is still tricky business and requires the expertise of a professional real estate agent.

Take your time when selecting the right agent to work with. You’re about to embark on a major endeavor so having the right chemistry—and the right level of trust—are essential. Here are four important questions to ask a prospective agent that will help you determine if he or she is the right person to list your home with:
  1. How long have you been a real estate agent? The number of years an agent has been in the business is important information for you to know—and there are pros and cons to every level of experience, so don’t rush to judgment. For example, if an agent has only been practicing for a couple of years, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Agents who started in real estate after the bubble burst only know how to operate within current market conditions and won’t waste time on outdated strategies that worked during the housing boom, but that won’t work now. Measure their success by the home’s they’ve sold so far and how they overcame the particular challenges of those sellers. Conversely, if you’re prospective agent is a real estate veteran, be sure to ask how he or she has adapted their approach for the market downturn. While their years of experience are invaluable to you, make sure they’ve changed accordingly with the times.
  2. What will you specifically do to market my home? In today’s technology-based environment, don’t settle for a general response, such as “online marketing” and “virtual tours.” Ask prospective agents which specific listing syndication sites your home will appear on, how many photos/videos of your home will be included, how social media will be utilized, and what sort of mobile platforms are available. Ask for examples of other homes the agent is currently listing so you can get a good idea of how your home will be marketed.
  3. What will it take to make your home stand apart? Savvy agents will offer specific details on what simple—or potentially significant—improvements need to be made to help your home compete on the market. Ask what features/qualities were common among recently sold homes. For example, if home offices were a popular selling point, quickly redecorating a spare bedroom into office space could make a big difference to prospective buyers.
  4. How will you determine the best possible price for my home? Pricing is a complicated and critical issue in today’s market and before you ask an agent this question, decide how quickly you want/need to sell your home. With a slightly lower listing price, your home could sell very quickly. With a slightly higher price, be prepared to wait. Ask your agent what the average listing time is for homes in your area. Ask which homes sold quickly and why. Ask what investments you may be able to make in your home that would result in a higher selling price. Ask what the current housing supply in your market is so you can get an idea of how in-demand your home may or may not be. All of these factors are crucial to determining the best listing price for your particular circumstances.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Making Space for Students

May 2, 2012 5:24 am

Your college-aged children will soon be heading home for summer break, providing a good chance to re-evaluate their living conditions while at school. 

Whether it’s an on-campus dorm or a nearby apartment, student housing is often snug at best. According to the professionals at Cort Furniture, however, regardless of how little space you have, students still need a place to eat, places for guests to sit, and room to move around. How you choose to arrange your furniture can make all the difference in making a small space stylish and comfortable. Cort offers the following tips on their furniture blog. 

- Make the most of all sources of light. Light, especially natural light, makes any room look larger. Using mini blinds instead of curtains is a great way to let lots of light in without sacrificing the need for privacy. Mirrors can help spread light in a room, and light from a tall lamp placed in a corner will bounce off of the walls behind it, illuminating and opening up the room. 

- Eliminate lines. The more things for the eye to see in space, the more cluttered and small the space will feel. Clean lines and simple shapes create the illusion of space. 

- Lighter neutral colors also have a calming effect on the eye, making the object seem less obtrusive in a space. Brighter colors make great choices for smaller, well-placed accents, such as pillows, pictures, or other design accessories. Just be sure to avoid creating a cluttered look by over-accessorizing. 

- Choose furniture wisely. Padded, overstuffed furniture, and furniture with a busy fabric makes a small room feel smaller, while solid colors and clean lines do the opposite. The same holds true for chairs and tables. Of course, making sure your student furniture rental includes dual-purpose pieces (such as storage ottomans and sleeper sofas) is always helpful, since economy of storage is likely an issue. A lighter wood or glass for tables is often a better choice than darker wood, which can make a table seem clunky.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Getting Your Plumbing in Order

May 2, 2012 5:24 am

While many of us are knee deep in spring cleaning tasks around the home, there may be one area you’re overlooking: your plumbing. 

According to the septic experts at Connecticut-based Kaiser Battistone, there are several steps you should take annually to make sure your plumbing remains in good working order. The following suggestions were presented in a recent blog post from the firm: 

• Engage water supply valves under sinks and toilets to prevent sticking and the accumulation of rust.
• Run water through faucets and into drains that are infrequently used to prevent odors and check for leaks.
• Clean mineral deposits from the shower head by soaking it in vinegar overnight and scrubbing with an old toothbrush.
• Flush out corrosion causing sediment by carefully draining a few gallons of water from your water heater.
• Check faucets for drips and pipes for leaks.
• Inspect toilet tank and bowl for hairline cracks and leaks.
• Check to ensure that no flammables have been stored near your water heater in the past year.
• Make sure outside gutters and leader drains are cleaned out and clear of debris so water drains properly away from your foundation. 

If you encounter any problems when conducting your plumbing check up, be sure to call a professional right away to prevent a small issue from becoming an expensive disaster.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Survey Says: U.S. Renters Planning to Purchase Home to Do So Within Next Two Years

May 2, 2012 5:24 am

Among renters who plan to purchase a home in the future, 60 percent have increased their intent to do so compared to 12 months ago, according to the recent PulteGroup Home Index (PGHI) survey issued by national homebuilder PulteGroup, Inc. Among this same group, 61 percent stated they intend to purchase a home within the next two years. 

Among the top reasons renters indicate they have increased their interest in buying a home include: 

• They like being able to call themselves homeowners (49 percent)
• They view it as a good financial investment (44 percent)
• They need more space for their family/kids (36 percent) 

The survey also revealed that deterrents – both real and perceived – still persist, preventing some renters from pursuing or achieving the dream of homeownership. The top three reasons indicated by current renters for not purchasing a home sooner include: 

• Not enough money for down payment (54 percent)
• The belief that renting is cheaper than buying (28 percent)
• Uncertainty with employment status (23 percent)
PulteGroup also offers the following tips to renters considering purchasing a home:
• Compare owning vs. renting – Buying can be smarter than renting. Instead of your monthly payments padding your landlord's pocket, they go towards owning your home. There are many advantages to homeownership, from tax benefits to more storage space.
• Get your finances in order – Line up your financing, start saving for a down payment and study available loan programs. By doing your homework, you will know exactly how much you can pay and what it will cost you.
• New vs. used – The PGHI survey showed that 63 percent of respondents will consider new construction when purchasing a home. If you want to choose the floor plan and customize a home to fit your family's needs, this may also be the right choice for you. New homes can be up to 30 percent more energy efficient and often come with a builder warranty. If you're handy and don't mind a fixer upper home, there are a bounty of resale options.
• Select the right builder – Begin by selecting a builder who has experience in the type of home and location you want. Make sure they have a history of building quality homes and are financially stable. Lastly, take time to check their references and talk to past customers.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Coming to Terms with Your Closets

May 1, 2012 5:24 am

“Not enough closet space” is a common lament of many homeowners. But the truth is, no matter how abundant or spacious your closets may be, the inner pack-rat in all of us tends to take over and stuff our shelves to capacity.

If your closet contains articles of clothing with the price tags still on, sheet sets from your childhood bunk beds, or board games with more than a few pieces missing, raise the red flag—things have gotten out of control.

While the prospect of overhauling your closets is indeed daunting, the benefits in terms of streamlining and organizing your day-to-day life (just imagine how much easier getting dressed in the morning could be?) make the challenge more than worth it. Here are some pointers to make tackling closet clean-outs less overwhelming:

- Pick and choose. Often the biggest deterrent to closet cleaning is not knowing where to begin. Odds are, if you have one bad closet, you have more. Enlist a triage approach and decide which closet is in the worst shape and/or which closet you frequent most. Or, take the opposite approach and clean out a closet that needs the least amount of cleaning first. This will help ease you into the process and motivate you with a sense of accomplishment.
- Think long-term. Unless you happen to be in a situation that affords you an inordinate amount of downtime, schedule your closet clean-outs over several months. Attempting to get them all done in one weekend is probably unrealistic and will leave you quite cranky come Monday morning. Shoot for something more reasonable, like one closet per month, or one closet per rainy weekend day. This type of approach is a lot more palatable.
- Buy contractor bags. One of the biggest pitfalls of cleaning out a closet is hemming and hawing over what to keep, what to give away, and what to discard. As is often said, if you haven’t worn or used something in a year, get rid of it. But only plan to give it away if it’s in really excellent condition; otherwise, the clutter in your closet will simply be transferred to your trunk with your good intentions to give it away stretching out over months. A nice, big contractor bag by your side will be your best friend during closet clean-up. Throw stuff away and start fresh all around.
- Consider an expert. For many homeowners, insufficient closet space is a real issue, especially if you live in a condo or smaller house. Also, if you’re abode is older, the closets may not have been designed with modern lifestyles in mind. A professional closet organizer can work miracles to revamp your closets for maximum space and organization.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Remodeling? Notify Your Insurance Company

May 1, 2012 5:24 am

According to a recent study by the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, there will be a 5.9 percent increase in spending on remodeling projects in 2012. If you are one of the many Americans planning to remodel your home this year, it is important to have the right amount and type of insurance both during and after the renovation, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I). 

The I.I.I. points out the following four key steps when remodeling your home: 

1. Talk to your insurance company before you start the project
• Let your insurance company know about your remodeling plans. Ask if you will need to update your homeowners insurance and whether you need other types of insurance to protect you financially during the project.
• If you are planning a simple, do-it-yourself project, only take it on if you are qualified to do the work. If friends or family are going to help out, make sure that you have sufficient liability protection in the event someone gets injured. This includes raising the amount of no-fault medical protection on your home insurance policy so that if someone is injured, he or she can simply submit the doctor's bills to your insurance company; this can lessen the risk of being sued.
• If you are planning a bigger project, look into getting a builder's risk policy (also known as a "course of construction" policy). It may be available as a stand-alone policy, or as an add-on to your homeowners policy. This coverage generally protects a home from damage incurred during construction, including wind and rain, theft of materials such as carpeting, tile or wood (though not the contractor's equipment), and vandalism. 

2. Verify that your contractor has insurance coverage
• Ask to see a copy of your contractor's insurance policies. The contractor should have both a commercial business/general liability insurance policy and workers compensation. If the contractor is not adequately insured or is unwilling to verify their insurance coverage, consider hiring someone else. 

3. Keep records and receipts
• Take photographs before, during and after the renovation so that you have a visual record of all of the work done on your home.
• Keep copies of any contractor contracts, and receipts for work done and materials purchased.
• If you purchase new belongings as part of the remodeling, keep receipts and add the information to your home inventory. 

4. Update your insurance coverage after the renovation
• Make sure that your insurance company knows about the improvements to your home. After a major renovation, you may need to increase the amount of insurance you have to rebuild your home. Be prepared to forward all records and receipts to your insurance company so that they can accurately assess your insurance needs.
• Consider getting more liability protection if you added a swimming pool or hot tub as these are considered "attractive nuisances" and could leave you vulnerable to lawsuits. You may want to ask your insurance agent about getting an excess or umbrella liability policy as a cost-effective way to increase your overall liability protection.
• Ask about discounts. You may qualify for a discount of at least 5 percent if you installed stronger doors, smoke detectors, a burglar alarm or dead-bolt locks. Some companies may cut your premiums by as much as 15 or 20 percent if you install a sophisticated sprinkler system and a fire and burglar alarm that rings at the police, fire or other remote monitoring stations. If you updated the heating, plumbing or electrical systems you may get a reduction in your premium as this reduces the risk of fire and water damage. Adding storm shutters or shatter-proof glass, reinforcing your roof or purchasing stronger roofing materials may also reduce your insurance costs.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Responsible Borrowing

May 1, 2012 5:24 am

At some point, most everyone will need to borrow money, whether it's for school, a car, a home, a business, or to meet daily expenses during a personal financial downturn. Of course, how that money is borrowed and how it is paid back can make a big difference in the total cost and a person's overall financial standing. 

The experts at BMO Financial Group offer the following suggestions to ensure responsible borrowing:
Know your credit score. This number is vital, and will often determine whether you can borrow money, how large a loan you can secure, and what interest rate you'll pay. Creditors will look at this score to gauge your ability to pay back a loan. It's made available via three main agencies: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Credit reports from these agencies should be checked regularly to ensure accuracy.
Manage your credit score. There are many factors that play into a credit score, including your credit history, outstanding debts and your total number of credit accounts and loans. Paying off debt, making payments on time, and not opening new credit accounts will all help bring your credit score up.
Understand your responsibility before co-signing anyone else's credit or loan. If a friend or family member makes that request, be sure you know what you're signing and have the ability to make payments in the event the primary signator is not able to.
Prioritize your debt, whether you're paying it off or taking out a loan. If you're faced with multiple sources of debt, make a list and determine which should be paid off first. If possible, make more than the minimum monthly payments to keep interest costs down. When taking on more debt, avoid new credit cards where possible and focus debt where it can help you over the long run—in a home or a college education.
Set your kids up for success by educating them on borrowing. Give them small loans and charge interest as they're paid back. Explain how credit cards work, and how much interest is paid when the bill comes. As kids get older and closer to college, talk to them about student debt and their prospects for paying those loans back after graduation.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Cost of Owning and Operating a Vehicle Continues to Increase

April 30, 2012 5:20 am

AAA recently released the results of its annual 'Your Driving Costs' study, revealing a 1.9 percent rise in the yearly costs to own and operate a sedan in the U.S. The average costs rose 1.1 cents per mile to 59.6 cents per mile, or $8,946 per year, based upon 15,000 miles of annual driving.

"The average driving cost for 2012 is up due to relatively large increases in fuel and tire costs, and more moderate increases in other areas," said John Nielsen, AAA director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. "Those increases were offset by a decrease in depreciation resulting in an overall increase of 1.9 percent."

"Some driving costs fluctuate at different times during the year, such as what we have experienced with fuel prices since the middle of February," explained Nielsen. "However, AAA's use of a consistent methodology for its study allows an accurate comparison of driving costs from year to year, and the figures can reliably be used to compare different categories of vehicles."

Nielsen continued, "AAA understands that high fuel prices are a real concern for consumers, and those in the market for a new vehicle may want to be cautious and determine projected operational costs based on varying levels of fuels costs. To assist consumers in determining their individual driving costs, the AAA 'Your Driving Costs' brochure contains a worksheet that can be filled out and personalized for a specific area, driver and vehicle.

Fuel Costs Up 14.8 Percent
The cost of fuel had the largest percentage increase from 2011 to 2012, rising 14.8 percent to 14.2 cents per mile on average for sedan owners. The average cost of regular grade fuel (used by most of the study vehicles) rose 16.6 percent, from $2.880 to $3.357 per gallon. Several vehicles included in the 'Your Driving Costs' study had increases in fuel economy, resulting in the overall average fuel cost increase being slightly less. The fuel costs in the 2012 study were calculated using the national average price for regular, unleaded gasoline during the fourth quarter of 2011.

Tire Costs Up 4.2 Percent
The cost of tires ranks second highest among the factors that rose from 2011 to 2012, increasing by 4.2 percent to one cent per mile on average for sedan owners. The rise in cost can be attributed to higher costs for natural rubber, and the increased cost of oil used in tire production and transportation from factory to distributors across the country. A collateral factor is a trend for manufactures to equip new cars with premium-grade tires rather than mid-grade tires.

Depreciation Drops 4.9 Percent
Depreciation costs were up slightly in 2011, but for 2012 the trend has reversed with depreciation falling across the board by nearly five percent. This change may be a consequence of reduced new car sales over the past few years, which has resulted in a relative shortage of good used cars on the market, driving up their value. This is good news for those in the resale market as their vehicles will retain a greater portion of their purchase cost.

Maintenance Costs Up 0.7 Percent
Maintenance costs are slightly higher in the 2012 'Your Driving Costs' study with an increase of 0.7 percent to 4.47 cents per mile on average for sedans. Factors contributing to the increase include higher prices for oil and more manufacturers now requiring synthetic or synthetic-blend motor oils. Although the use of these oils often comes with extended service intervals, the higher cost of the oil combined with increased maintenance operations at each service (which adds to the time required) can combine to increase overall vehicle maintenance costs.

Insurance Costs Up 3.4 Percent
Average insurance costs for sedans rose 3.4 percent (or $33) to $1,001 yearly. Insurance rates vary widely by driver and driving record, issuing company and geographical region. AAA insurance cost estimates are based on a low-risk driver with a clean driving record. For 2012, this group saw a small increase that offset a decrease experienced in 2011. Quotes from five AAA clubs and insurance companies representing seven states showed across the board increases for all sedan sizes, with large cars having the biggest increase.

62nd Year of 'Your Driving Costs' Study
AAA has published 'Your Driving Costs' since 1950. That year, driving a car 10,000 miles per year cost 9 cents per mile, and gasoline sold for 27 cents per gallon.

Driving costs are also affected by how well your vehicle runs. Performing regular maintenance not only ensures fuel-efficient operation but can help prevent costly vehicle repairs that can add to your total ownership cost.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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