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

EPA Proposal Could Trigger Rising AC Costs

March 1, 2012 3:48 am

The National Home Service Contract Association (NHSCA) is advising consumers of a possible spike in the cost of maintaining older home air conditioning systems due to a recent proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

On January 1, 2010, the EPA placed a ban on the manufacture of new air conditioners using R-22, a refrigerant more commonly known as Freon® because of its ozone depleting effects. The use of R-22 was not banned, but rather allowances were dictated on its future manufacture and distribution in order to service existing home air conditioners.

Some air conditioner manufacturers responded by manufacturing “replacement” units designed to be Freon compatible. They are shipped with a “dry” charge, such as Helium or Nitrogen, but allow for the use of Freon at a later time. Consequently, demand for Freon remains high.

On January 4, 2012, the EPA proposed a rule which, if adopted, would significantly reduce production and distribution of Freon by approximately 50 percent. This has significantly increased, even doubled or higher, the price of Freon in recent weeks.

Home service contracts generally provide service, repair or replacement for items such as dishwashers, ovens, disposers, electrical and plumbing systems - and most importantly, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC). Many home service contract providers also offer a menu of optional items such as pool and spa equipment, well pumps, and free standing appliances such as refrigerators and clothing washers and dryers for an additional fee. Contracts do not cover pre-existing conditions, but will provide service, repair or replacement for failures arising due to normal wear and tear during the contract period.

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The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index Increases

March 1, 2012 3:48 am

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had decreased in January, increased in February. The Index now stands at 70.8 (1985=100), up from 61.5 in January. The Present Situation Index increased to 45.0 from 38.8. The Expectations Index rose to 88.0 from 76.7 in January.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey®, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was February 15.

Says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center: "Consumer confidence, which had declined last month, posted a sizeable improvement in February. The Index is now close to levels last seen a year ago (Feb. 2011, 72.0.). Consumers are considerably less pessimistic about current business and labor market conditions than they were in January. And, despite further increases in gas prices, they are more optimistic about the short-term outlook for the economy, job prospects, and their financial situation."

Consumers' assessment of current conditions was more favorable in February. Those claiming business conditions are "good" increased slightly to 13.3 percent from 13.2 percent, while those claiming business conditions are "bad" decreased to 31.2 percent from 38.3 percent. Consumers' appraisal of the labor market was also less pessimistic. Those stating jobs are "plentiful" increased to 6.6 percent from 6.2 percent, while those saying jobs are "hard to get" decreased to 38.7 percent from 43.3 percent.

Consumers were more optimistic about the short-term outlook than they were last month. The proportion of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 18.7 percent from 16.7 percent, while those anticipating business conditions will worsen decreased to 11.8 percent from 14.6 percent. Consumers' outlook for the labor market was also more upbeat. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased to 18.7 percent from 16.4 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs declined to 16.9 percent from 19.1 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes improved to 15.4 percent from 13.8 percent.

Source: The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Survey®, February 2012

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Survey: Nearly One-in-Ten Adults Overlook Tax Deductions

March 1, 2012 3:48 am

With tax season in full swing, a new CouponCabin.com survey reveals that many Americans miss money-saving opportunities when filing their taxes. Nearly one-in-ten (8 percent) U.S. adults said they aren't aware that deductions can be made on their tax returns. In addition, of those eligible for deductions, almost two-in-five (37 percent) report they will not or are not sure if they will claim multiple deductions on their income tax return this year.

The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of CouponCabin among 2,550 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.

Missing deduction opportunities could be a result of the large number of U.S. adults who plan to prepare their income taxes without the help of a certified professional. Nearly half (45 percent) said they will prepare their taxes this year by themselves, using online resources, computer software or good old-fashioned pen and paper. More than one-third (38 percent) said they plan to use an accountant or tax professional to file their taxes.

While some aren't aware of deduction options on their tax returns, others aren't paying close attention to the calendar. One-in-ten (10 percent) of those who have ever filed income taxes said they have missed the deadline to file income taxes in the past, a mistake that can result in penalties from the IRS.

Paying attention to tax parameters is essential for an accurate and timely refund, but there are other ways to ensure you're saving as much money as possible. CouponCabin offers the following tips for saving money on this year’s taxes:
  • All in the family: Fourteen percent of U.S. adults said they plan to ask a friend or family member to help prepare their taxes this year. Consider asking those who are close to you if they can lend a helping hand. It may make the process easier and can help you save extra dough.
  • Use a coupon: Many professional and online tax preparation services offer coupons to help filers save money. Head online to check out the tax preparation offers from services like H&R Block and Turbo Tax on CouponCabin.com.
  • Seek out free resources: Organizations like VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) and AARP, among many others, offer complimentary volunteer resources depending on various criteria. Before you file your return, check to see if you qualify for free assistance.

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New Glass Offers Style and Privacy Options

February 29, 2012 3:48 am

Glass takes on new creative and functional potential thanks to designs that offer high style and privacy. The new Privacy Glass Collection from glass engineers Therma-Tru, for example, features glass in finishes such as Chord, Chinchilla, Rainglass and Granite.

Whether used as a door or in side-light panels, the privacy glass is triple-paned for energy efficiency and security. The textured privacy glass is sealed between tempered, clear glass sheets to provide reduced heat transfer, increased thermal performance and improved sound-dampening features within a reliably-constructed frame. The ENERGY STAR® qualified glass panels are also available with impact-rated options for areas that experience severe weather conditions.

The triple-paned privacy glass allows a home to benefit from natural light while still maintaining privacy. Big-on-style finishes include:
  • Chord glass features a vertical, flowing pattern reminiscent of waves on the water. Privacy rating of 10.
  • Chinchilla glass resembles a free-flowing configuration, presenting quiet lines and unique curves. Privacy rating of 10.
  • Rainglass encompasses ripples of cascading water in an elegantly-fashioned glass. Privacy rating of 8.
  • Granite glass features a coarse grained arrangement with surface variations over the entire piece of glass. Privacy rating of 10.
New privacy glass designs are expected to offer home builders a unique way to set homes apart in the market, while offering existing homeowners a way to upgrade their doors and entryways, and areas such as windows over garden tubs.

Source: www.thermatru.com

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Case-Schiller Reports U.S. Home Prices at Post-Crisis Lows

February 29, 2012 3:48 am

U.S. home prices in December fell to their lowest level since the housing crisis, according to the most recent Case-Shiller Index. The report underscores the fact that the current real estate market still represents a prime opportunity for homebuyers.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city composite fell 1.1 percent in December, resulting in an overall 4 percent downturn for 2011. According to journalist Steve Goldstein in yesterday’s Marketwatch, the index hasn’t been this low since February 2003 and has dropped 33.8 percent from its peak.

All cities saw price declines in December, except for Phoenix and Miami, with Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle and Tampa reporting record lows. The data on housing prices contrasts with recent reports on activity, possibly showing that the low prices are actually spurring more home sales, according to the Marketwatch article.

Analysts anticipate the possibility of home prices declining even further as unreleased foreclosure and bank-owned properties—referred to as “shadow inventory”—have yet to hit the market. While the foreclosure inventory has reported signs of decreasing over the past two years, there are still a significant number of distressed properties affecting the marketplace and home prices in general.

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Aging-in-Place Remodeling on the Rise as Seniors Stay Home

February 29, 2012 3:48 am

The market for aging-in-place remodeling continues to grow as more homeowners choose to remain in their homes as they age, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). NAHB Certified Aging-In-Place Specialists (CAPS) experts were joined by representatives from AARP for a press conference held at the recent International Builders’ Show (IBS) to discuss how the aging-in-place market has changed as it moves mainstream, what consumers are looking for and what universal design and aging-in-place trends will be popular in the future.

Nine out of 10 people age 50 and older say they want to remain in their homes and communities for as long as possible. According to CAPS, the current 50-plus generation is typically healthier and wealthier than previous generations of similar age; they want their homes to accommodate their active, independent and upscale lifestyles.

Additionally, while the majority of CAPS consumers are 55-64 years of age, remodelers report that 23 percent of clients are younger (45-54 years of age) and planning ahead to age-in-place. According to NAHB, as aging-in-place modifications and universal design move into the mainstream, the CAPS program provides builders with the expertise necessary to provide accessibility, safety and low maintenance living to homeowners of any age.

The CAPS program was launched by NAHB in partnership with AARP, the NAHB Research Center and the NAHB 50+ Housing Council in 2002 and has been on the leading edge of home modifications for aging-in-place since its inception. The program has graduated more than 4,000 specialists in 10 years.

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Home Remodeling Expected to Rebound

February 28, 2012 3:46 am

After three years of slumping business, builders anticipate that the home remodeling and improvement sector will pick up in 2012, according to a recent article in The Orlando Sentinel.

During the recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Conference, NAHB researcher Paul Emrath, reported that remodeling was beginning to edge up.

In 2011, U.S. residential remodeling added up to an estimated $279 billion, about the same as in 2010 but down almost 15 percent from 2007. New-home starts have fallen more than 70 percent around the country since the market peak in 2005.

While not coming close to approaching that peak, The National Association of Home Builders is forecasting an almost 9 percent increase in remodeling this year and more than an 11 percent jump nationwide in 2013. Emrath attributes the slow rebound to the decline in house prices and a lack of equity.

More than half of the home remodeling projects last year cost in excess of $25,000, and total home remodeling and improvement expenditures now add up to more dollars than new-home construction, according to the builders association. Remodeling accounts for close to 70 percent of U.S. residential construction expenditures.

The biggest share of home improvement spending, roughly 20 percent, goes for exterior repairs or upgrades. But kitchen and bathroom jobs are a close second at 19 percent of remodeling work. Upper-end discretionary remodeling projects that were popular in housing’s hey-day, are expected to be few and far between. Until nationwide home values improve, homeowners are expected to be more conservative with their remodeling.

Previously foreclosed homes needing repairs will continue to be a benefit to remodelers. Lenders are also spending money to improve distressed homes, with Fannie Mae spending more than $600 million to repair foreclosed properties.

The large inventory of foreclosed homes currently on the market, stand to help the remodeling business for some time to come.

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Consumers Demand Better Service from Insurers

February 28, 2012 3:46 am

U.S. insurance consumers want their insurers to offer more personalized service and reward customer loyalty, according to Ernst & Young’s Global Consumer Insurance Survey 2012. The survey also finds that consumers of life/annuity and property/casualty policies are willing to buy multiple products from the same carrier if they are tailored to meet their individual needs, and that millennials believe the strength and health of an insurer’s brand is more important than the price of the insurance product.

Ernst & Young surveyed more than 24,000 consumers of insurance products in 23 countries across seven global regions. The most important trends Ernst & Young found focus on U.S. consumers’ expectations of loyalty, customer service and online communications. Specifically, the three themes of critical significance to life/annuity and property/casualty insurers today are:
  • Loyalty rewards. While U.S. consumers continue to be satisfied with their insurance provider, many express a desire for better service and more loyalty rewards. More than one-third (36 percent) of consumers believe the life and pensions industry lags other industries in service, and nearly half (43 percent) of consumers say it does an insufficient job in rewarding loyalty. Consumers are accustomed to having their loyalty rewarded by other industries, and increasingly expect the same from insurers. The good news is that U.S. customers want to remain loyal to their insurers. In fact, 65 percent of respondents are either “not at all likely” or “not very likely” to change insurers in the next five years.
  • Personal interactions coupled with digital ease. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with online channels for researching insurance products and carriers, but the vast majority of people still want to rely on personal interaction to make their insurance purchases. On the property/casualty side, the survey found that personal interaction is particularly important when extending coverage (71 percent), making a claim (82 percent), or dealing with other customer service issues (78 percent). In life/annuities, 82 percent of consumers think it is important to have personal interaction when making an insurance purchase. Nevertheless, customers are showing a greater desire to use online sources to inform themselves prior to making a purchase (44 percent of life/annuity customers used online comparison sites), with two-thirds (66 percent) expecting to do more independent online research in the future.
  • Millennials put a premium on brand. U.S. insurance consumers generally trust their insurance providers, despite the recent financial crisis, but require them to offer more personalized service and reward customer loyalty, according to the survey. Specifically, Millennials are bucking conventional wisdom and paying more attention to brand than cost when picking an insurer. While price is still an important factor, consumers younger than 34 are willing to pay more for a brand they trust. In fact, almost half of Millennials (43 percent in property/casualty and 48 percent in life insurance) consider the financial stability of the insurance provider as the most important factor influencing their decision to buy insurance.

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Switching Banks on the Rise

February 28, 2012 3:46 am

Consumer backlash against bank fees, coupled with poor service and unmet customer expectations, has fueled increases in defection rates among customers of large, regional and midsize banks, according to a new study from J.D. Power and Associates.

As an increasing number of consumers switch from larger banks, smaller banks and credit unions continue to benefit, according to the 2012 U.S. Bank Customer Switching and Acquisition Study (SM).

Acquisition of new customers by smaller banks and credit unions has increased by 2.2 percentage points to an average of 10.3 percent in 2012 from 8.1 percent in 2011. Among big banks, regional banks and midsize banks, switching rates average between 10.0 and 11.3 percent, while the defection rate for small banks and credit unions averages only 0.9 percent, a significant drop from 8.8 percent in 2011.

The study, which examines the bank shopping and selection process, finds that 9.6 percent of customers in 2012 indicate they switched their primary banking institution during the past year to a new provider. This is up from 8.7 percent in 2011 and 7.7 percent in 2010.

The study finds that fees are the main reason customers shop for a new primary bank. In particular, one-third of customers of big and large regional banks cite fees as the main shopping trigger. When banks announce new fees, customers weigh the price they pay against the value of their experience. According to the study, a poor service experience followed by a fee increase is often the trigger that causes bank customers to look elsewhere. More than one-half of all customers who said fees were the main reason to shop for another bank also indicated that their prior bank provided poor service.

J.D. Power and Associates offers the following tips for customers looking to switch banks:
  • Shop around to compare terms and service before deciding on a bank. Don't forget about direct online banks, as their competitive fees and rates may offset any inconvenience due to lack of physical branches.
  • Don't be swayed by promotion gifts/cash alone. It is more important to ensure the bank that you are selecting offers the right products to meet your needs and that the fees associated with the products are in line with what you are willing to pay.
  • Read account brochures and disclosures carefully and don't be afraid to ask questions about the products you are about to open.
Source: J.D. Power and Associates

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Hard Water is Harsh on Appliances

February 27, 2012 3:46 am

Most Americans have hard water flowing through their plumbing, and it's taking a silent, but pricey toll on their water-using appliances and pipes, say the experts at Angie’s List.

"If you think you're not affected, think again: 85 percent of Americans have hard water," says Angie Hicks, founder of the website dedicated to consumer reviews of contractors and service companies. "Water with a high mineral count is really hard on your appliances and can take years off their useful lives."
Hicks advises that homeowners watch for the following red flags to see if their water is an issue:
  • Reduction in supply of hot water from a traditional tank water heater
  • Clothes are dingy or unclean after going through the washer
  • Calcium rings or deposits in tubs, sinks and dishwasher
  • Shower head and faucet clogs
  • Spotty or unclean dishes, glasses and flatware after the dishwasher has run
  • Water pipe leakage
Determining if you have hard water is simple and relatively inexpensive to address. Step one is to have your water analyzed, says Hicks. Some utilities and health departments offer this service, but companies that specialize in water conditioning also offer it, often free-of-charge. Because those companies have a vested interest in the outcome of such tests, consumers should consider getting at least one outside opinion.

Consumers have a few options when it comes to removing calcium and magnesium, the troublesome minerals that make water hard. Traditional water softeners use salt to remove those minerals. Devices that do not use salt to accomplish the same thing are often called "water conditioners" or "descalers."
Here are Angie's List tips for buying a water softener:
  • Water softeners can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000 depending on size and type. Some companies offer rental equipment for a nominal monthly charge. Installation typically runs $150 to $300.
  • Before you buy a water softener or conditioner, research available products and service companies. Insist on a money-back guarantee.
  • In most states, installation does not require a licensed plumber. At a minimum, use a company with technicians certified by the Water Quality Association.
  • Understand and follow the maintenance required to keep the unit operating properly.

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