RE/MAX 440
Peter Patkos
1110 North Broad Street
Lansdale  PA 19446
 Phone: 215-327-7491
Office Phone: 215-362-2260
Fax: 267-354-6879 
peterpatkos@remax440.com
Peter Patkos

My Blog

Boost Your Refund with Home-Related Tax Breaks

March 12, 2012 3:54 am

Homeownership is not only a long-term investment for your family and your future, but an important annual tax benefit. The tax experts at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service® advise homeowners not to overlook the many credits and deductions that can add thousands of dollars to their refund amounts.

Be sure to review the following tax breaks available covering home-related areas, such as:
  • Mortgage Interest: The amount of mortgage interest paid on a principal residence or second home is deductible and generally reported on Form 1098. Taxpayers can also deduct all the points paid to purchase the residence, even if some have been paid by the seller. If certain requirements are met, the points may be deducted in full in the year paid. Otherwise, they may be deducted over the life of the mortgage. Seller-paid points that taxpayers claim as an itemized deduction reduce the cost basis of the home.
  • Buying a Home: Most of the expenses incurred when buying a home are not deductible. However, there are certain closing costs that are added to the basis of your residence. Keeping track of the basis of your home is important because when selling, it is needed to calculate any gain or loss.
  • Property Taxes: Taxpayers may deduct real estate property taxes in the year paid. They may be reported on Form 1098, the annual statement from the financial institution holding your mortgage. Taxpayers may also be able to deduct some of the taxes paid during closing. The taxes must be the responsibility of, and paid by, the taxpayer.
  • Energy Credits: There are energy credits available for making energy efficient changes to a home. For 2011, the credit is limited to 10 percent of the cost of improvements, up to a lifetime total of $500. The credit will be further limited for each category of improvement.
  • Home Improvements: Home improvements are not generally deductible on a tax return. Instead, the cost of improvements is added to the basis of the home and helps keep any gain below the $250,000 ($500,000 if married filing jointly) exclusion amount when the house is sold.
For those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of a foreclosure or short sale on their home, there are tax breaks available as well. Foreclosures and short sales are treated as both a home sale and a canceled debt. When the house is a taxpayer's primary residence, and they have lived in and owned the home for two of the last five years, any gain up to $500,000 on the disposition is tax-exempt. In addition, the canceled debt (mortgage still owed) is excluded from taxable income, as long as it is less than $2 million and is for the taxpayer's principal residence.

Source: www.jacksonhewitt.com

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5 Ways to Know When You’re Done

March 9, 2012 3:54 am

If you’re like most people, there just never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on our to-do lists. Worse yet, when we finally do get on a productivity roll, there always seems to be a distraction waiting in the wings to throw us off course. But the reality, says author Jason Womack, is that we could actually accomplish a lot more each day if we can learn to recognize and acknowledge when we’re done.

“One of the biggest time wasters we all face is spending too much time on those things that don’t require it,” says Womack, a workplace performance expert, executive coach, and author of the new book, Your “Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More.” “When we do so, we lose the time we actually should be spending on more difficult or time-intensive tasks. But when you learn to recognize when you’re done with a task, you’ll have valuable minutes and maybe even hours added back into your day.”

Womack offers the following five tips for learning how to recognize when you’re done:
  • Stop majoring in the minors. Many of us spend a lot of time on those projects and tasks that are easy for us. Then, we convince ourselves that we “just didn’t have enough time” to get to the harder stuff. But when it comes to knowing when you’re done and freeing up time during your day, completing these easy tasks quickly and efficiently is essential.
  • Before you start your work day, think about what your high leverage activities are and what your low leverage activities are, says Womack. For the low leverage activities, force yourself to move through them as quickly as possible. With these tasks, often perfection isn’t necessary. When you can accomplish these minor tasks more efficiently, you’ll have the time you need to do those major tasks justice.
  • Don’t overwrite emails. Much of your time each day gets eaten up by email. Make a conscious effort to keep your emails as short and sweet as possible. Get to the point quickly and use action verbs in subject lines so that both you and the recipient know what needs to happen before the email is even opened, advises Womack.
  • Quit over-staying at meetings and on conference calls. Often meetings and conference calls will take as long as you’ve allotted for them. Set an hour for a meeting and you’re sure to go the full hour. Pay close attention to how much of your meeting is actually spent focused on the issues at hand. Know the meeting’s objectives before you begin so that you can get to them right away.
  • Set your own deadlines and stick to them. It’s very easy to get distracted or sidetracked by things you think you should do or things others think you should do. Having a self-imposed deadline will help you ignore those distractions.
  • Know when it’s time to ask for help. Have you ever been stumped by a certain project or task? Did you walk away from it for a while and then come back to it hoping you’d suddenly know what to do? Sometimes knowing when you’re done is knowing when you, specifically, can’t take a project any further. Wasting time on something you’re never going to be able to figure out is much worse than asking for help.

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10 Tips for Refinishing Your Hardwood Floors

March 9, 2012 3:54 am

Gleaming hardwood floors have long been a valuable component of any home. They are susceptible to wear and tear, however, so maintaining and refinishing when necessary is a must. The process doesn’t have to be as daunting or costly as it seems, however. Let the following steps be your guide:

Step 1 - Determine if Your Floor Needs Refinishing
Refinishing hardwood floors is often a better choice than simply replacing the flooring, because it costs less and takes less time. In some cases though, a floor might be damaged beyond repair. Consult a professional to determine whether to opt for a hardwood floor refinishing technique or new flooring.

Step 2 - Determine if Some of the Floor Planks Need Replacing
Sometimes 90 percent of the floor might be in good shape and only a few planks are in need of repair. Be sure to replace those boards before beginning the refinishing process. Since most planks will be connected using a groove-tongue joint, it will be slightly difficult to get one out, but it's not impossible.

Step 3 - Filling the Gaps
It's considered good practice to fill in the gaps at the ends of the floor planks before sanding, but you shouldn't waste time with every little crack. They're unavoidable, as wood tends to expand and contract due to humidity. Unless the gap is big enough that you think it might create problems during the hardwood floor refinishing process, feel free to skip it and save some time and energy.

Step 4 - Getting the Right Equipment
Some of the equipment you'll need for refinishing your floor will need to be bought or rented: sand paper (different weights); a drum sander; a palm sander; an edge sander; claw hammer; a vacuum cleaner; a buffer; a scraper; a brush; safety goggles; a dust mask; protection gloves; and knee pads.

Step 5 - Preparation
Since it usually gets quite messy when you refinish hardwood floors, a little preparation goes a long way. Make sure you turn off all vents that might take dust and sand particles across the house and only use ventilation that connects the room to the outside. It's also a good idea to use some wet sheets across entrances to the room you're working on for the same reasons.

Step 6 - Sanding
Sanding is probably the most important part of the process and you need to put all focus into it if you want your floor to look great at the end.

Step 7 - Cleaning
Use a broom and the vacuum to pick up the dust from the floor; never use any moisture to clean the floor. You'll also have to clean the walls and ceiling.

Step 8 - Buffing

Make sure the floor is clean before you start buffing it. You'll want to choose a screen for the buffer at the rental or hardware store that's around 100 grit, then carefully sweep it across the entire floor.

Step 9 - Staining
Staining is one of the last steps you'll have to take, but it's also the step where many make mistakes. Take extra care and time for this part of the process.

Step 10 - Finishing

If you're sloppy with finishing, all your work thus far is for naught. Take your time with this final step to achieve the best results for your floor.

Source: building-protection-plus.com

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Consider the Emotional Side of Downsizing your Home

March 9, 2012 3:54 am

You may be confronted with the need to downsize your home for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’re suddenly an “empty-nester,” or maybe you need a smaller home due to a financial hardship. No matter what the reason, Florida REALTOR® Melanie Tisdale offers the following advice as you prepare to downsize.

First focus on how you want to live. Use this as an opportunity to think about any lifestyle changes you’d like to make. Downsizing offers the perfect chance to exchange the costs of maintaining a large property for the luxury of having more leisure time. Make sure your new home helps you take advantage of this new chapter of your life.

Emotional ties to the family home is one of the main barriers to downsizing, but equally, deciding on where to move to, and what style of property will best suit your lifestyle, can be just as daunting a prospect, says Tisdale.

During the downsizing process you may be surprised at how attached you have become to your possessions and how difficult it might seem to part with them. A good tip is to start getting rid of your items a few months before your move, so take the time to donate or recycle items no longer needed. You can even take advantage of eBay to get rid of items you don’t really need. This will make your actual move much easier and your new home will be fresh and uncluttered.

Decorators recommend sketching floor plans for your new home to see where all your current furniture will fit. You shouldn’t wait until you move in to discover that there’s just no room for that armoire or extra stools, Tisdale advises.

Whether it’s by choice or out of necessity, downsizing offers many advantages. Make sure you’re prepared to fully capitalize on the possibilities of a smaller home.

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Digital Design and Sustainability among Top Hardware Trends

March 8, 2012 3:54 am

The 2012 International Hardware Fair in Cologne, Germany, revealed several major trends that transcended the geographical boundaries of the 50 countries represented, according to the North American Retail Hardware Association (NARHA). Technological innovation, lightweight model design and sustainability appear to be driving research and development in products across the globe for the year ahead.

Whether the economy is forcing consumers to be more efficient with their discretionary dollars or there is greater demand for increased usability and ease, products able to perform a variety of tasks continue to be in demand in 2012, but are now also featuring improved technology.

For example, Little Giant, a U.S. ladder company, is featuring a new industrial ladder that reads out ladder angles on a small digital display to ensure the ladder will not slip or tip over on the user. Other signs of digital advancements on display at the show included angle-controlled hand tools, such as wrenches, and Bluetooth- and USB-enabled products.

NARHA also reported that many exhibitors highlighted ergonomic and lightweight features on their tools. Although consumers today are demanding their products be more aesthetic and practical in design, they are also demanding the same—if not better—power and quality in these products. Anecdotal evidence suggests this trend is motivated by two main demographics: the elderly and the female sector.

Sustainability is also driving product development trends globally, as energy efficiency continues to be a growing concern for consumers across the country. NARHA reports products made with sustainable materials and fewer unneeded parts, to products with the ability to save consumers utility costs.

While traditionally it can take months or even years for European trends to hit the U.S. market, the more than 80 U.S. exhibitors in attendance also had an eye toward these trends, according to NARHA. U.S. consumers can expect to see this innovative product design in stores in the months to come.

Source: North American Retail Hardware Association

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How to Conduct a Financial Spring Cleaning

March 8, 2012 3:54 am

While the focus in spring usually turns to shampooing the carpets and cleaning the drapes, the change in seasons also presents a good time to weed out and organize your finances. Jodi Helmer from CreditCards.com offers the following six steps for refreshing your financial life:
  1. Clear the clutter: The IRS requires taxpayers to maintain tax records for all income, deductions or credits claimed on their federal returns for at least three years. For all nondeductible expenses, Helmer says it’s ok to shred statements as soon as payment is posted to your account. Signing up for online statements and paying bills electronically will also reduce paper pileup but create electronic clutter. Be sure to back up all files stored electronically in case of a computer crash.
  2. Safeguard important documents: Financial documents such as savings bonds, life insurance policies, deeds and property titles and stock certificates should be stored in a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box at the bank. Create an inventory and formally authorize a trusted adviser or family member to get access to the material.
  3. Organize payments: Gather all recent credit card financial statements and list the amount owed on each one, along with minimum payments and interest rates. From there, establish a plan to pay off one card at a time. Though it's always fastest and most economical to pay off the highest-rate debt first, some people keep motivated by quickly paying off small debts completely, regardless of rate. Set up automatic payments for recurring bills such as car loans, the cable bill and your monthly mortgage.
  4. Consolidate accounts: Instead of keeping track of multiple credit card bills and statements from several checking, savings and investment accounts, consider which accounts could be closed or consolidated. Bigger investments draw better rates and juggling too many credit card accounts may make it easier to forget about payment due dates, increasing the likelihood of missed or overdue payments. Bear in mind that closing cards can temporarily trigger a decline in your credit rating. Be sure to hang on to your oldest cards as they provide a sustained track record.
  5. Shop for better interest rates: A little bit of research could net better rates on everything from your mortgage and car loan to your savings account. In comparing interest rates, read the fine print. For example, does a bank require a minimum balance to switch to a higher interest savings account? What are the terms and conditions linked to a zero percent card offer? What are the closing costs associated with refinancing a mortgage to a lower rate? Your credit card company may also be willing to grant an interest rate deduction.
  6. Assess current investments: Conduct an annual investment review. If you have an investment adviser, make an appointment to review your investment accounts. If you don’t have an adviser, consider hiring one. Your financial institution or employer may make referrals to financial advisers. If you're doing your own search, ask about education and experience as well as their fees. Planners may work on a fee basis, commission or a combination of both.
Source: CreditCards.com

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Americans Not Maximizing Smartphones

March 8, 2012 3:54 am

While smartphones can perform a plethora of functions, according to a recent Harris Poll survey, very few smartphone owners are actually taking advantage of the time- and paper-saving potential of their devices.

Today’s smartphones can store information to make our lives more efficient – information that can be scanned to make a purchase, or displayed as a ticket for admission, allowing us freedom from printed confirmations and bulky wallets. However, when asked about a list of items that one could scan their mobile or smartphone for, only small minorities report having done so in each case.

According to the survey, only 5 percent of Americans say they have scanned their phone for admission to a movie or as an airline ticket, and fewer say they have done so to pay for clothing or electronics (3 percent), admission to a concert, live theater or performance (3 percent), to pay for a convenience item such as coffee (3 percent) or something else (7 percent). Two in five say they have never scanned their mobile or smartphone for any reason (40 percent) and slightly more say they do not have a mobile or smartphone with this capability (45 percent). Although Echo Boomers, aged 18-35, are most likely to have scanned their phone for all of the items listed, even they are not doing this at remarkable rates (between 5 percent and 10 percent for each item).

While few may be actively engaging with these functions, there is also a divide on the levels of comfort associated with these behaviors as well. Just under half of Americans (47 percent) say they are comfortable using a mobile scan as an admission ticket to movies, concerts or live theater performances, while 38 percent are not comfortable with it — with 25 percent not at all comfortable; 15 percent are not sure. About the same number of people are comfortable (41 percent) and not comfortable (43 percent) using a mobile scan as an airline, train or other transportation ticket; 15 percent are again, not sure.

Slightly fewer are comfortable using a mobile app that would allow them to make purchases at a retailer or company as they would with a gift card (39 percent) while 47 percent are not comfortable with this and 14 percent are not sure. The only item where a majority opinion is seen, is with using a mobile app that would store credit card information, allowing people to make purchases at a retailer or company as they would with a credit card; 63 percent are not comfortable with this with over two in five (45 percent) not at all comfortable. Only one quarter (24 percent) of Americans are comfortable with this, and 13 percent are not sure.

Looking at those who are comfortable with the various items, several noticeable trends emerge:
  • There is comfort in youth – younger adults are more comfortable than those older with each item listed.
  • Men are more comfortable with each item than are women.
  • Those who have scanned their smartphone for any one of a number of reasons are more comfortable with each capability than are those who have never scanned their phone, or do not have a phone with that technology.
According to Harris, the study implicates that, at the moment, technology capabilities are outpacing changing behavior—there are many new functions available that most people either haven't tried or admit to being uncomfortable with. While people like having the latest in technology, based on the wait lists and lines for newly released products, beyond early adopters, many people don't take advantage of the new functions available to them.

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Prints and Patterns Dominate Spring Designs

March 7, 2012 3:54 am

Spring 2012 is the season of pattern and print, and designer Laura Ashley is right in step with this current trend. 

Not just for fabrics, print can be extended beautifully to both sofas and also to wallpaper, says the designer. Patterned wallpaper is a highly effective way of creating character, mood and atmosphere within a room with little effort. Bold and vivacious, it can make a wall the focal point of a room’s design.

Laura Ashley – well known for a bold use of print and pattern – offers a set of newly developed designs for spring and summer, drawing upon the quintessentially British theme of the Laura Ashley brand and modernizing it beyond a tradition of floral design.

"To the Manor Born" is a collection inspired by the well-worn and well-loved English country house; traditional with a modern edge. The fabric inspired by an archive print implemented 24 years ago, called "Summer Palace." The design has been infused with newly ripened colors, with a palette evocative of the jewel-like shades of cranberry red, emerald green and sapphire blue against clean, ivory backgrounds. The design has also been made matt, rather than having a silk and shiny finish. The overall effect is fresh and relaxed.

"The Darling Buds Bedroom" is another collection that will create new shades of spring and summer in the home. The design is inspired by splashy, watercolor floral prints. It is ideal for spring and highly feminine. Multi-colored with a focus on pretty, delicate floral prints, the palette highlights pinks, yellows and greens against crisp white - hitting the pastel notes of this spring's fashion. The key feature of this story is its hand painted look, delicate and ornate.

Spring’s new patterns and home furnishing design trends can help add a fresh look to your home for the warmer months ahead. 

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Simple Tips to Make Your Home a Vacation Destination

March 7, 2012 3:54 am

As the economy gradually recovers, millions of Americans will be staying closer to home this spring and summer. Now is the perfect time to start getting your outdoor space ready for fun at home. With a little hard work and advice from the experts at HouseLogic, homeowners can quickly and easily get their home and outdoor space summer-ready.

For homeowners who want to expand their living space, this may finally be the year to add a new deck. According to HouseLogic, choosing the right material is the most important decision you’ll make about decking. While synthetic decking materials, such as composite and PVC decking, and tropical hardwoods like mahogany are initially pricier, they are easier to maintain and can last years longer. Although traditional wood decks initially cost less, the annual cleaning and resealing maintenance can make them more expensive over the long term.

If your home already has a deck, it may simply need some care and maintenance. First, give your deck’s structure a close inspection for rotting or cracked boards. Pound in any protruding nails and cut back nearby trees or bushes to prevent mold and rotting. Then thoroughly sweep and wash the deck; after it’s completely dry, follow-up with a sealer or stain.

Pavers may be a good alternative to a deck and are available in many different colors and finishes. Choosing patio paving materials begins with a solid foundation—the base that supports the pavers must be firm, strong and designed to stand up to years of foot traffic and weather. When it comes to pavers, there are many options, including brick pavers, which offer warmth and the possibility of intricate patterns; concrete pavers, which come in countless shapes and sizes and can be fashioned to look like real stone; a variety of stone, slate and marble; and even recycled hardscape materials, such as concrete sections from a neighbor’s old driveway or sidewalk.

If you have a pool, you may want to consider alternatives to chlorine. Chlorine is popular because it’s inexpensive and keeps swimming pools clean by sanitizing, oxidizing and deterring algae; however it also has a strong odor, reddens eyes, and causes allergic reactions in some swimmers. Chlorine alternatives include bromine, ionizers, ozonators or PHMB; but all four have drawbacks, including higher costs. 

With your pool and outdoor space in top shape, gather your family and friends and start enjoying the warmer weather.

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FHA Announces Price Cuts to Encourage Streamline Refinancing

March 7, 2012 3:54 am

Acting Federal Housing (FHA) Commissioner Carol Galante has announced significant price cuts to FHA’s Streamline Refinance Program that could benefit millions of borrowers whose mortgages are currently insured by FHA. Beginning June 11, 2012, FHA will lower its Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP) to just .01 percent and reduce its annual premium to .55 percent for certain FHA borrowers.

To qualify, borrowers must be current on their existing FHA-insured mortgages that were endorsed on or before May 31, 2009. Late last month, FHA also announced it will increase its upfront premiums on most other loans by 75 basis points to 1.75 percent. In addition, FHA will raise annual premiums 10 basis points and 35 basis points on mortgages higher than $625,500.

“This is one way that FHA can make a real difference to help homeowners who are doing the right thing, paying their bills on time and want to take advantage of today’s low interest rates,” said Galante. “By significantly reducing costs for these borrowers, we can make certain they cut their monthly mortgage burden, which will benefit the housing market and the broader economy in the process.”

Currently, 3.4 million households with loans endorsed on or before May 31, 2009, pay more than a five percent annual interest rate on their FHA-insured mortgages. By refinancing through this streamlined process, it’s estimated that the average qualified FHA-insured borrower will save approximately $3,000 a year or $250 per month. FHA’s new discounted prices assume no greater risk to its Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) Fund and will allow many of these borrowers to refinance into a lower cost FHA-insured mortgage without requiring additional underwriting. FHA-insured homeowners should contact their existing lender to determine their eligibility.

Last month, the Obama Administration announced a broad package of actions and legislative proposals to help responsible homeowners save thousands of dollars through refinancing. This includes the changes announced today that will benefit current FHA borrowers –particularly those whose loan value may exceed the current value of their home. By lowering monthly mortgage costs for homeowners, FHA hopes to help more borrowers stay in their homes, thereby decreasing the potential for future default and reducing losses to the Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) Fund.

The changes outlined in today’s mortgagee letter apply to all mortgages insured under FHA’s Single Family Mortgage Insurance Programs except:

- Title I
- Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM)
- Section 247 (Hawaiian Homelands)
- Section 248 (Indian Reservations)
- Section 223(e) (Declining Neighborhoods)

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