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How To Tackle Your Home's Stubborn Stains and Odors

by Scott Darling

From wall stains to washing machines, indoor stains and smells can be a challenge to tackle. Luckily, there are surprisingly simple methods to erase them for good. Here are a few tips to freshen up the most stubborn spots in your home.

concealerConceal wall stains with primer

Have your kids made artwork of your walls, or has your leaky roof caused a water-damaged mess? Tough wall stains like these can be hard to get rid of, but are easily sealed by applying a high-quality, stain-blocking primer. For example, KILZ Hide-All Primer Sealer covers problem areas on surfaces from drywall and woodwork to concrete and brick. It even masks over dark stains without allowing color to bleed through. With only a one-hour drying time before applying a topcoat, this is the perfect one-weekend project to cross off your list. KILZ primer can also seal off odors caused by pets or smoke.

Eliminate refrigerator odors

Refrigerators are subject to a variety of spills and odors. Making time for fridge maintenance can help prevent unusual odors and keep your food fresh longer. To cleanse and polish your fridge, begin by emptying the contents of your fridge and throwing out, recycling or composting any food that is expired or beginning to smell.

Next, pull out any removable drawers or shelving and place them in the sink. Using a damp, soft cloth or non-abrasive sponge, wipe down these pieces, the interior of your fridge and the door with a multi-purpose cleaner. Or, mix two tablespoons of baking soda with one quart of hot water for a natural soap alternative. Don't forget the seams of the shelves and rubber door seal.

If your fridge requires an extra-deep cleaning, unplug it while you work to avoid wasting energy. Before putting all of your food back into the fridge, wipe down the exterior of each jar or container with a damp cloth. Repeat this process every two or three months for the best results.

Make grout lines shine

Tile surfaces are prone to dirt and debris, especially in bathrooms or high-traffic areas. To keep tile looking fresh and new, grab an old toothbrush or electric toothbrush for a deeper scrub. Before you start, wash the surface with water then mix two parts baking soda with one part water. Scrub the resulting paste into the cracks and crevices, then douse with water again. If the grout lines are stained, spray a mixture of equal parts vinegar and warm water onto the area and brush. After a final rinse, the grime will be gone.

Prevent a moldy washing machine

If you own a front-loading washing machine, you've probably noticed the unpleasant smell that can linger after completing a load of laundry. Despite being more energy-efficient, these machines have a tendency to hold odors and harbor mold. To clean and prevent grimy buildup, try this: instead of detergent, cycle two cups of vinegar and a quarter-cup of baking soda on a hot setting. When it's done, use a clean sponge to scrub down the inside. Finally, rinse with a plain-water cycle, and you'll see (and smell) the results.

Whether in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry room, tricky stains and odors in your home can be a tough job, but with these four tips you'll be able to eliminate a few messy tasks in no time. (BPT)

Information courtesy of Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

Are You Overpaying To Be Underinsured?

by Scott Darling

If you own a home, vacation property, boat, art or other valuables, you likely understand the importance of insurance. What you might not know is there's a good chance you're overpaying for that insurance, and furthermore, it's likely not providing the coverage you really need.

insuranceMost financially successful people who insure their assets with carriers geared primarily for the average U.S. household overpay for coverage, according to an ACE survey of independent insurance agents. Furthermore, the survey found that coverage is often inadequate, leaving their wealth unnecessarily exposed to the risk of severe financial loss.

"It's a shock to many families with substantial assets that they are overpaying for inadequate protection," says Jim Williamson, president of ACE Private Risk Services. "The reason this occurs is people frequently fail to update their coverage as they build wealth."

Unfortunately, unless people experience a severe loss, they never realize their agent and carrier no longer have the expertise, insurance coverage and services to fully meet their needs. By then, it's too late. In order to get the right coverage for your assets while paying appropriate premiums, it's best to take a proactive approach.

The first step is to conduct a personal risk review. Risks tend to grow alongside wealth and situational complexities make each person's needs unique. A sound insurance program should be developed with an independent insurance agent or broker who has experience working with high net-worth families. Learn more at www.aceprs.com.

Three important risk assessment areas to discuss include:

1. Physical and financial assets

Make a list of all properties, cars and recreational vehicles that need coverage. High-value jewelry or art collections should be assessed as well. Additionally, reviewing financial assets is important so the agent can determine net worth and recommend the correct liability coverage.

2. Occupation, activities and family status

Communicate your career and where you work to your insurance agent. Do you work from home? Do you serve on any boards of charities? Do you employ a nanny or other household staff? Additionally, discuss the needs of your family, including safety concerns or age-related issues.

3. Tolerance for risk

Think about your personal viewpoint on insurance. Do you have it mainly to serve as protection against catastrophic loss or would you prefer it to cover small losses as well?

In many cases, families discover they need more liability coverage and better protection for their home and valuable collections, while cost-savings found elsewhere in the program keep total premium about the same. In fact, 51 percent of the agents from the ACE survey said that the cost of a newly structured program with a high net-worth carrier was usually 5 percent less than the cost of the previous mass-market carrier.

Williamson notes these top ways to save:

1. Increase deductible

Agents report 81 percent of families likely have homeowners and auto insurance deductibles that are too low. You will pay substantially more for smaller deductibles, yet oftentimes wealthier families are able to cover higher deductibles in the event of an incident. For example, the ACE Platinum Portfolio policy that insures a $1 million home with a $2,500 deductible versus a $500 deductible saves about $900 a year.

2. Package discounts

The survey found 62 percent of families likely do not take full advantage of discounts earned by placing multiple policies with one carrier. Lesson: Resist the temptation to have your auto, home and liability insurance with separate carriers. Spreading policies across carriers can cause insurance gaps and eliminates opportunities to save by packaging policies together. Packaging discounts can be as high as 10 percent.

3. Loss prevention credits

Half of the agents surveyed believe that families overlook credits available for safety systems. Safety systems such as burglar alarms, water leak detection and power backup systems can reduce the cost of insurance coverage by 30 percent or more. Rehabilitating plumbing, electrical and heating systems in older homes can result in additional premium credits.

"The best way to get the right coverage is to work with an experienced agent who can provide expert counsel based on your unique situation," says Williamson. "They will be able to recommend the right options and investigate discounts so you can get more for your insurance dollar." (BPT)

Information courtesy of Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

Chester County PA Real Estate Market Trends - June 2015

by Scott Darling

If you are contemplating putting your house on the market, you may want to see if you have some of the top features home buyers are looking for.

  • A large laundry room is on the list of must-haves for most home buyers these days.  The bigger the better when it comes to laundry rooms. Painting this room a fun color is also a great idea.  If you have not yet updated your washer and dryer it may be a good time to do that as well. 
  • Landscape lighting is a plus if you want your house to stand out above all the others on the market.  Taking a photo of your home at night with all the landscape lighting lit may be a good way to market your home in real estate magazines.  Also if you want to add ambiance to the inside of your house you can add wall lanterns in entrance ways and hallways. 
  • A finished garage is an excellent feature that many home buyers are looking for.  You can add drywall and paint as well as paint the floor of your garage.  You will be amazed at what a difference doing this will make to your home.  Make sure to add a lot of storage areas so that the man of the house will be happy about buying your home. 
  •  An "eat-in" kitchen  is a must have these days.  If you don’t currently have an “eat-in” kitchen, you may want to knock out a wall to make this possible.  It could be the difference of selling your home or not selling your home.  

Take a look at June's real estate sales broken down by school district.

Downingtown School District

The number of homes selling in the Downingtown school district in June 2015 rose by 23.81% when compared to June 2014. The average selling price decreased by 1% to $382,254. The median selling price rose by 3.47%, while the average market time decreased by 4 days.

Date Sold
Listings

Average
Selling Price

Median
Selling Price
Average
Days On Market
June 2015 130 $382,254 $372,500 42
June 2014 105 $386,067 $360,000 46

 

West Chester School District

The number of homes selling in the West Chester school district in June 2015 increased by 14.38% when compared to June 2014. The average selling price decreased by 2.04% to $384,244. The median selling price increased by 4% while the average market time decreased by 16 days.

Date Sold
Listings

Average
Selling Price

Median
Selling Price
Average
Days On Market
June 2015 175 $384,244 $364,000 34
June 2014 153 $392,247 $350,000 50

 

Coatesville School District

The number of homes selling in the Coatesville school district in June 2015 the same when compared to June 2014. The average selling price decreased by 5.72% to $231,849. The median selling price decreased 2.39%, while the average market time dropped by 39 days.

Date Sold
Listings

Average
Selling Price

Median
Selling Price
Average
Days On Market
June 2015 72 $231,849 $225,000 38
June 2014 72 $245,917 $230,500 77

 

Great Valley School District

The number of homes selling in the Great Valley school district in June 2015 increased by 5.88% when compared to June 2014. The average selling price increased 6.53% to $536,846. The median selling price rose by 7.68%, while the average market time decreased by 9 days.

Date Sold
Listings

Average
Selling Price

Median
Selling Price
Average
Days On Market
June 2015 54 $536,846 $438,500 63
June 2014 51 $503,943 $385,000 24



Unionville School District

The number of homes selling in the Unionville school district in June 2015 increased by 23.53% when compared to June 2014. The average selling price increased 17.51% to $626,192. The median selling decreased 3.6% while the average market time increased by 15 days.

Date Sold
Listings

Average
Selling Price

Median
Selling Price
Average
Days On Market
June 2015 42 $626,192 $521,250 87
June 2014 34 $532,880 $540,725 51



Tredyffrin-Easttown School District

The number of homes selling in the Tredyffrin-Easttown school district in
June 2015 increased 27.87% when compared to June 2014. The average selling price decreased by 18% to $504,793. The median selling price remained the same, while the average market time decreased by 22 days.

Date Sold
Listings

Average
Selling Price

Median
Selling Price
Average
Days On Market
June 2015 78 $504,793 $475,000 55
June 2014 61 $615,616 $475,000 33

 

Owen J Roberts School District

The number of homes selling in the Owen J Roberts school district in
June 2015 increased by 35.42% when compared to June 2014. The average selling price decreased by 5.48% to $387,502. The median selling price dropped by 3.6% while the average market time decreased by 11 days.  

Date Sold
Listings

Average
Selling Price

Median
Selling Price
Average
Days On Market
June 2015 65 $387,502 $335,000 70
June 2014 48 $409,960 $347,500 81

 

Phoenixville School District

The number of homes selling in the Phoenixville school district in June 2015 increased by 34% when compared to June 2014. The average selling price increased by 2.52% to $292,529. The median selling price rose by 1.2%, while the average market time dropped by 34 days.

Date Sold
Listings

Average
Selling Price

Median
Selling Price
Average
Days On Market
June 2015 67 $292,529 $253,000 43
June 2014 50 $285,334 $250,000 77

 

Curious about the value of your home? Get your home's value here!

Is Your Credit Score a Big Deal? You Betcha!

by Scott Darling

Is your credit score a big deal? If you want to buy a home, it’s a huge deal!

Your credit score will determine if you can get a loan. It will also determine how much you can borrow and what your interest rate will be! To buy a home with a mortgage loan you must have a strong credit score.

credit scoreThere are three primary sources for credit scores in the US: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They all use the FICO system. These are the most used sources by creditors.

FICO developed the computer software the major credit scoring companies use. FICO scores range from 300 to 850. However, many creditors consider 500 to be the bottom of the acceptable range.

Your score is a measure of your credit-worthiness and determines the interest rate that you will pay for a loan. It’s not unusual for a creditor to obtain all three of the major scores and average them. A very good score is 700, and an excellent score in 750.

The primary factors that determine your score are:

  • payment history (35%)
  • debt/amounts owed (30%)
  • age of credit history (15%)
  • new credit/inquiries (10%)
  • mix of accounts/types of credit (10%)

65% of the total score is determined by only two factors: payment history and amount of debt owed. You must have a good history of paying your bills on time. And you must be very careful about how much debt you have relative to your income!

That last point is extremely important when borrowing for a home mortgage. As of 2014 the federal regulations governing mortgage lending have changed. Borrowers can no longer carry total debt of more than 43% of gross annual income, including the mortgage debt! Lenders are going to be very strict about adhering to that ratio. There are serious consequences for the lender not doing so.      

Many actions you take affect your score. Most people don’t think about:

  • unpaid medical bills and parking tickets can lower your credit score
  • heavy credit use can lower your score, even if you pay large balances off in full in a short time
  • credit scores drop if you sign up and use store cards for initial discounts

For more advice about managing your credit, click here.

Looking forward to buying a home? Educate yourself, manage your credit score, and know your credit score before your lender does.

Information provided by Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

Backyard BBQ Safety Tips For the Summer

by Scott Darling

Things are heating up outside and that means it’s time for backyard BBQ’s!  Summertime is full of fun for all and eating outdoors is one of the fun things you can do during this season.  It is important to keep safety in mind when cooking outdoors.    Here are a few backyard BBQ safety tips that you can use next time you have family and friends over to cookout.   These tips are good for cooking on your grill or in your fire pit. 

  • barbecueMany times when folks cook out they will do so from their deck.  If you are planning to walk away from your grill for any amount of time you may want place your grill away from the deck so that there is no chance that it can catch on fire.  Perhaps a patio would be a better place for your outdoor cooking.  If you don’t have a patio you can easily build one. 
  • It is a good idea to keep your grill clean and free of debris that may have gathered on it over the winter months.  When you pull your grill out for your first BBQ this summer you should clean it thoroughly. 
  • Gas propane tanks need to be stored in temperature controlled areas as they are a fire hazard if left in areas where the temperatures can get very high. 
  • If you have a fire pit and you choose to use it for your summer barbecuing fun, you need to be sure that it is located at least 10 feet away from your home or any structures. 
  • Be sure to use wood that has been dried for at least 6 months in your fire pit.  Also only use a fire starter for fire pits to start the fire.  Never under any circumstance use gasoline to start the fire.  Fire pits are close to the ground and can start a brush fire quite easily if not kept contained and if not careful.
  • If it happens to be windy on the evening in which you choose to use your fire pit it may be best to use the grill instead.  As I mentioned already, fire pits are not as easily contained as a regular barbecue grill.

As long as you use a bit of common sense and the tips we have listed here, you should be able to enjoy your backyard barbecue with your friends and family without any issues arising. 

Information provided by Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

Simple Precautions Can Help Thwart Common Vacation Scams

by Scott Darling

Bags packed? Check! Tickets in hand? Check! Perfect! You're all set to embark on your dream vacation. Before you head out the door, you should know that scammers, identity thieves and fraudsters rarely take vacations. Instead, they wait for you to take yours.

vacation"When people plan vacations, they let their guard down," says David Barnhardt, payments product line leader at Early Warning, an Arizona-based fraud prevention company. "Fraudsters know this, and they have a whole bag of tricks created specifically for people in a vacation frame of mind."

Enjoy your vacation, he says, but exercise good judgment. That suggestion syncs perfectly with similar advice offered by both the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Their websites each devote pages of precautions about potential travel scams - some of which can happen long before you pack your suitcase. 

Many pre-vacation scams, the FTC warns, can begin with unsolicited vacation e-mails announcing amazing travel deals. The agency says if an offer sounds too-good-to-be-true, be wary.

Barnhardt, who also worked in law enforcement for eight years, agrees. "If you get an e-mail announcing you have won a 'free' vacation, be careful," he says. "Chances are before long you will be asked to provide someone with a credit card number to confirm your reservation. You would be surprised how many people fall for that scam."

Credit card numbers are the gold-standard for many fraudsters, he says. And one way to protect your card, Barnhardt advises, is to place a travel flag on your credit and debit cards. Those flags can help card issuers quickly identify suspicious charges.

"If charges are swiped outside of your vacation dates, it can signal a compromised card," he says.

Barnhardt also recommends travelers use credit cards instead of debit cards.

"Simply put, credit cards draw on credit lines, whereas a debit card hack means your money is actually withdrawn from your account," he says. "That can cause an overdraft, which means overdraft charges. You may get your money back, but it often means you may need to file a police report, which can be a huge headache, especially if you're overseas. Plus you may have to explain to your creditors why your payments were returned and work with your institution to get penalty fees reversed as well." 

Credit cards are also the safer method of payment when you're asked to put a deposit on a vacation rental.

"If a website advertises a gorgeous house or condo and the property owner asks that you wire a deposit, a red flag should immediately go up," says Barnhardt. "Don't do it. Money wired is money gone. Unlike a credit card deposit, once you wire money, you cannot get it back."

And - after you have arrived at your destination - it pays to stay alert. "Hotels and motels can be breeding grounds for fraud," says Barnhardt. 

One prevalent travel scam that the FTC warns about involves a late-night phone call to your room allegedly from the front desk at a hotel, motel or resort. The caller claims there is a problem with the credit card and asks the guest to read the number over the phone. The obvious solution: make a trip to the front desk to speak with someone in person.

Barnhardt also warns of another lodging-related credit card scam currently in vogue: fliers slid under hotel-room doors offering pizza delivered right to your room.

"This sounds great to a hungry traveler, but if you call and they ask for your credit card number, it's better to hang up the phone and ask the front desk to recommend local eateries," he says.

Exercise caution when logging onto the hotel's free Wi-Fi network, says Barnhardt.

"Just about every hotel and motel provides free Wi-Fi," he says. "But fraudsters have perfected the art of mimicking legitimate networks. Logging onto a fake Wi-Fi network can put all the data stored in your tablet or phone in jeopardy."

Once again, he says, the best solution is to ask before acting.

"Check with the front desk," he says. "Make sure you are using the hotel's authorized network and they've supplied you with a secure Wi-Fi password. A bogus Wi-Fi can be outsmarted just by being cautious. Vacation time is about relaxing, but don't relax your common sense."

In other words, follow the FTC's advice to vacationers: "When it comes to a travel deal, exercise doubt and check it out. (BPT)

5 Home-Improvement Projects to Help Sell Your Home

by Scott Darling

he real estate market has improved across much of the country, but homeowners thinking about listing their homes this summer need to stay competitive to attract buyers. Buyers are looking for long-term homes, ones they want to stay in for years while raising their children, or settling down and retiring.

home improvementTo prepare your home for listing - or simply to enjoy it a few years longer - check out these top five home improvement projects you can do yourself to make your home more attractive to buyers:

1. Give the front door a new look - The front door sets the tone for your home's curb appeal and security, and it signals how well you maintain everything else. Buyers will be walking into your home via the front door, so be sure to give them a good first impression. If your door is in good shape, you might just need to give it a refreshing new coat of paint or new hardware. But if it's seen some wear and tear over the years, consider replacing it with a steel door - one that will show buyers your home is safe.

2. Update the most-used entryway - While the front door needs curb appeal, the garage door is traditionally the most-used door in the home. Old wooden garage doors will start to sag and the paint will peel, giving your home a run-down look. Replacing this door with an insulated steel door will not only improve the exterior look of your home, but also keep the garage space warmer. Finishing off the garage can also be a big draw for buyers, but you probably won't be able to recoup as much of the expense as you would by replacing only the garage door.

3. Add additional living space - You might not think about adding a deck as the same thing as adding an extra room to the house, but if you're selling your home during the warmer months, that's how buyers will see it. They'll be able to picture themselves enjoying breakfast and picnic dinners outside, or curling up on a lounge chair with a good book on a summer afternoon. Realtor.com estimates that homeowners can recoup 87 percent of the investment of adding a deck when they sell.

4. Create a bathroom retreat - As the smallest room in the house, the bathroom tends to cost the least to remodel. If you have a guest or master bath that can use a little help to transform into a relaxing oasis, take the opportunity to replace the flooring, add cushy rugs, paint the walls and replace the accessories with more modern styles. Faucets, showerheads, the mirror and even the toilet can all be upgraded with water-saving and stylish designs. Buyers will take note of a maintenance-free bath, making your home one they'll remember as move-in ready.

5. Turn the backyard into a private paradise - Buyers will be visualizing themselves in your backyard when touring your home. They're looking to see how quiet and secure the space is. Consider adding a beautiful wooden fence to enhance the privacy. It will make the home attractive to families with children and pets, and for couples who aren't interested in having a conversation with the neighbors every time they go outside. (BPT)

Staging & Curb Appeal Tips To Sell Your Home!

by Scott Darling

If you’re considering selling your home in the near future here are some things to be thinking about. Staging your home most commonly refers to paying attention to how your home shows on the inside to buyers. Curb appeal refers to how it looks to buyers on the outside. Staging and curb appeal are often thought of as separate issues.

stagingHowever, if you think of them together the results will often be more than just the sum of the parts. The things you do to improve on by staging and curb appeal may even enhance your enjoyment of your  home for the time before you sell. Let’s consider staging for selling in this blog…

There are a of lot things you can do yourself without spending big dollars, especially if you start well ahead of selling. “Streamlining” is a new term that encompasses “de-cluttering.” Things that we all get used to living with do not always make a positive impression on a buyer. So, look around your living environment and be honest about what you could maybe do without, especially for the short term.

You might find that you would enjoy a little less stuff around right now. That includes things that are in storage. If you haven’t used something in 2 or 3 years maybe you could do without it? For the things that you really do want to have handy, is there a better way to store them? Here are some easy staging ideas you can do yourself.

Talk with your favorite Realtor to get some suggestions. They may even know a reasonably priced staging professional who can help. But, if you’re the type to do it yourself there are all sorts of tips on the internet. A good start is to do some planning. Make a checklist for yourself to help organize the effort for the big picture.

Also think about things that can make a big impression. An example of a high impact effort that looks at both indoors and outdoors is dressing up the entry into your home. That idea and 12 other tips are included in an article you can access here. Work your way through your checklist and keep thinking inside and outside together. Over a relatively short period of time you’ll find you are making significant changes toward selling your home.

Information courtesy of Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

Getting Your Home Ready For Your Summer Vacation

by Scott Darling

Many families plan for their summer vacation months in advance but did you know that you need to prepare your home for your vacation as well?  Below are a few tips on what you should do to prepare your home for your upcoming vacation.   

  • summer vacationMow your grass before you leave for your vacation.  I would suggest that you set the mower on the shortest cut you can get so that you don’t have to worry about it growing up while you are gone.  If you are going to be gone for an extended period of time you may want to arrange to have a family member mow your yard at least once while you are gone.  Mowing your yard before vacation makes it look like you are still at home and therefore may keep away potential intruders. 
  • Another thing you should do before you leave on vacation this coming summer is to contact the post office and have your mail canceled while you are gone.  You can pick your mail up at the post office once you arrive back home and start your service back up.  This may sound like a huge ordeal but it really is an easy way to keep things neat and tidy while you are away from home.  This simple act will also deter intruders.
  • If you don’t want your house to stand out as if no one is home, you may need to install a flood light that is activated by motion outside of your home.  This way if someone walks up to your house that is not suppose to be there the neighbors will be able to see them and can report anything out of the ordinary.  Another thing you can do with lights is to set a few inside lights on a timer so that it looks like you are home.
  • Some water heaters have a VAC mode otherwise known as a vacation mode. If you have this setting on your water heater it’s a good idea to use it while you are away.  Doing this is not only a good way to save on your bill but it is also a good way to avoid any type of flooding that may occur while you are gone.  The last thing you want to come home to is a flooded house due to a broken or burst pipe.

Hopefully these tips will get you started in the right direction before you set off on your summer vacation and you’ll be able to relax and have fun without worrying about your house! 

Information courtesy of Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

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Scott Darling
RE/MAX Action Associates
403 W. Lincoln Highway #101
Exton PA 19341
(610) 594-SCOT
610-363-2001
Fax: (610) 363-5275