RE/MAX 440
Ann M. Ciesielka
aciesielka@aol.com
Ann M. Ciesielka
1110 North Broad Street
Lansdale  PA 19446
PH: 215-362-2260 x1720
O: 215-362-2260
C: 215-280-2649
F: 267-354-6811 
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My Blog

5 Tips to Avoid Tax-Related Fraud

January 28, 2016 1:58 am

Recent widespread data breaches have made taxpayers leery of identity theft and fraud this tax filing season—and they’re wise to exercise caution, says Michael Bruemmer, vice president of Consumer Protection at Experian.

“Tax season is a busy time of year for identity thieves. Those filing taxes, especially electronically, should educate themselves on what precautions need to be taken, and what assistance is available to them if they become a victim of identity theft,” Bruemmer says.

Preventative measures taxpayers can take include:

• Thoroughly researching any paid preparer or tax preparation software

• Ensuring that the computer used when filing electronically is on a secured network, and is protected with the most up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware software

• Asking potential tax preparers to explain how they file and what steps they take to protect their customers’ information.

• Enrolling in credit monitoring and taking action by filing a fraud claim if an alert indicates potentially fraudulent activity

• Not responding to any emails or text messages from anyone who says they’re with the IRS, as the organization contacts individuals via mail and phone only.

According to results from a recent survey by Experian, 28 percent of survey respondents have been a victim or know someone who has been a victim of tax fraud. Forty-two (42) percent of survey respondents are concerned that someone can access their personal data through their tax return.

Despite that concern, just 12 percent of survey respondents are planning to check their credit reports to monitor suspicious activity, and a mere 6 percent of respondents plan to file their taxes on a computer with up-to-date antivirus software.

Additionally, 45 percent of survey respondents are unaware of the IRS-issued Identity Protection PIN. The IP Pin is a unique number assigned to eligible taxpayers that helps prevent misuse of their Social Security number, and protects against thieves attempting to file fraudulent federal income tax returns.

Source: Experian

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Pro Tips for Water Heater Maintenance

January 28, 2016 1:58 am

Of all the household appliances requiring maintenance, your water heater is one you don’t want to neglect. Forgoing maintenance can not only be hazardous, but also costly, says Michael Petri, a Brooklyn-based plumbing and heating professional.

"We see hundreds of poorly maintained water heaters that need to be fixed or replaced around this time of year," says Petri. "Water heaters account for nearly 17 percent of a household's energy use, so it can get very costly if they aren't maintained properly or get too old."

To ensure the longevity of your water heater, Petri suggests the following tips:

1. Replace an Outdated Unit – Water heaters generally last between 8 and 10 years—after that, they may begin leaking, requiring frequent maintenance or repair work. If your model is outdated, consider replacing it with a new, energy-efficient alternative. Keep in mind that water heaters built after April 15, 2015 meet different energy standards than older models, and, as a result, are larger in size, so storage modifications may be needed.

2. Install Insulation – To ensure accurate water temperature and avoid damage from temperature fluctuations, insulate your water heater with a fiberglass wrap. These wraps, installed by a professional plumber, are safe and generally less expensive than other insulation options.

3. Inspect and Flush the Unit – Regularly inspect the water heater’s pilot light to ensure the system is heating properly. The light should always be blue—red or orange indicate a malfunction. In addition, have your water heater flushed at least once a year to remove built-up rust or sediment, which can inhibit the unit’s performance.

Source: Petri Plumbing and Heating, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Snowstorm Damage? What Is—and Isn't—Covered by Homeowners Insurance

January 28, 2016 1:58 am

Homeowners insurance covers a multitude of property damages, including those caused by blizzards and other severe winter storms. According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), standard policies generally cover:

• Damage brought on by burst pipes or ice dams, typically with the requirement that the homeowner has taken reasonable steps to prevent these losses by keeping the house warm and properly maintaining drains and pipes

• Damage caused by tree limbs that fall on the house or other insured structure on the property, including both the damage the tree inflicts on the house and the cost of removing the tree, generally up to $500

• Damage from ice and other objects that fall on the house

• Structural collapse of the house caused by weight of snow or ice

• Wind-related damage to the house, its roof, its contents and other insured structures on the property, as well as damage caused by wind-driven snow or freezing rain

• Additional living expenses (ALE) to cover other living arrangements in the event the home is severely damaged by an insured disaster

Bear in mind damage caused by flooding is not covered by either standard homeowners or renters insurance policies. Melting snow that seeps into a home from the ground up would be covered by flood insurance, which is provided by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program and a few private insurers. Flood insurance is available to both homeowners and renters.

“Consumers who need to file an insurance claim should contact their insurance professional as soon as possible,” says Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and chief communications officer of the I.I.I. “Let your agent know the extent of the damage and start to document your loss with lists, receipts or photographs. If you have a home inventory, now would also be a good time to access it.”

Source: I.I.I.

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Why the Weekend Getaway Trumps Extended Trips

January 27, 2016 1:52 am

Recent research shows vacations don’t have to be long to be beneficial—in fact, just one weekend getaway is all it takes to feel reenergized, according to a recent survey by Enterprise.

“We all know the benefits of taking vacations—everything from reduced stress, improved health and increased productivity when we return to our routines,” says Steve Short, vice president of Enterprise. “What's interesting to us is that many individuals don't need an extended period of time to unplug.”

Seven out of 10 respondents to the survey reported finding it easy to unplug right away on a weekend getaway, and three out of four agreed they feel mentally refreshed after just one weekend away.

The reason? Nearly 80 percent of survey respondents said weekend getaways present an opportunity to explore a new place closer to home, cutting out potentially stressful long-haul travel. Seventy percent of respondents said weekend getaways are less expensive than extended stays, which make them—and their budgets—feel less burdened. A nearly identical amount of respondents also said weekend getaways offer the flexibility of returning home quickly if needed, compared to the alternative, which can cause strife if an emergency arises.

Source: Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Ask the Arborist: How Can Snow Affect My Property?

January 27, 2016 1:52 am

Snow-capped trees and ice-tipped shrubs may be pretty to look at it, but both can cause some not-so-pretty damage to plantings on your property.

“Snow will cause the branches to separate,” explains Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist of the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). Such action can lead to bent, split or broken branches, or, worse, fallen or uprooted trees.

Andersen advises homeowners to avoid planting arborvitae species if they live in an area that receives heavy, wet snow often. Arborvitae species tend to grow tall, with multi-stemmed branches that are low to the ground.

“Small, rounded, woody-stemmed plants would be a better choice, but make certain to give them enough root space away from the structure,” Andersen cautions. She recommends planting them near homes where snow can fall off the roof all at once in large piles.

A tree's form can be a factor in how well it will withstand heavy snow and ice storms. Coniferous evergreens can bear more snow weight than broadleaf evergreens, for instance. Pine (low altitude), spruce and fir with spread branches are more likely to be damaged by heavy snowfall than trees with steeper angled branches. In ice storms, a tree with good, right-angle branches will have less trouble than one with narrow, more vertical branch crotches.

The timing of snowfall can also be a factor in determining potential for damage. With a wet snow in March, when there are no leaves on the branches, the tree may be able to withstand damage pretty well—but that same snow in late spring or early fall, when the tree is filled with leaves, could add unbearable weight.

Still, not all damage is cause for concern.

“A little breakage isn’t always bad,” Andersen adds. “Nature prunes, trees, too. A wet snow may break off small twigs and dead branches. It can do a good job of pruning that way. Just follow up with some cleaning cuts."

In some instances, snow and ice cover can actually be beneficial.

“Snow is both friend and foe to trees and shrubs," says Andersen. “Snow causes its share of damage, as we all know, but in many cases it also protects plants and their roots against extreme fluctuations in temperature that could damage or even kill them.”

Source: TCIA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Transitional Style Reigns Supreme in Kitchens, Baths

January 27, 2016 1:52 am

The “transitional” style will once again be the most popular design trend in homes this year. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s (NKBA) annual survey, recently released for 2016, the transitional style, dominated by a neutral color scheme, is a trend that will continue in both kitchen and bathroom design for the foreseeable future.

In kitchens, this includes:

• Built-In Coffee Stations, Wet Bars
• Docking and Charging Stations
• Granite, Quartz Countertops
• Gray, Off-White, White Cabinetry
• Outdoor Kitchens
• Pocket Doors
• Pull-Out, Tilt-In, Tilt-Out Storage
• Special Pet Spaces
• Wood Flooring

In bathrooms, this includes:

• Built-In Storage
• Electric Radiant Floor Heating, Towel Warmer
• Floating Vanities, Open Shelving, Wall-Hung Toilets
• Freestanding Tubs
• Hand Shower, Shower Lighting, Steam Showers
• Humidity-Sensing Fans
• Polished Chrome
• Undermount Sinks
• WaterSense® Faucets, Toilets

Roughly half of survey respondents (members of the NKBA) expect to complete more renovations involving outdoor kitchens this year, and nearly three-quarters of respondents expect to incorporate prep, maintenance and cleanup features, such as under-sink garbage disposals and under-counter wine refrigerators, in kitchen designs in 2016. Special pet spaces within kitchens will also grow in popularity this year, with amenities like designated feeding stations, under-counter crate areas and storage for pet food and toys. Survey respondents also anticipate, in addition to the features listed above, requests for roll-out storage, frameless glass shower enclosures and aging-in-place elements.

Source: NKBA

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Big Spenders: Impulse Purchases Top $100

January 26, 2016 1:52 am

Ever made an impulse buy? You’re not alone. According to a recent CreditCards.com report, nearly 85 percent of Americans have made impulse purchases, with over half  spending $100 or more on unplanned buys. Some have even spent upwards of $1,000!

Impulse purchases generally benefit the person doing the spending. Nearly half of Americans cited in the report have made an impulse purchase for themselves, over 20 percent have made an impulse purchase for a child, and approximately 15 percent have made an impulse purchase for a spouse or significant other.

Seniors are best at exercising restraint. In fact, one in five seniors in the report say they have never made an impulse purchase—more than any other age group.

Interestingly, most impulse purchases occur in-store, not online. Just 6 percent of Americans included in the report made a spontaneous buy via smartphone or tablet.

Source: CreditCards.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Tips for Safe Snow Removal

January 26, 2016 1:52 am

’Tis the season for snow in many parts of the country—and if you’re a homeowner, you know cleanup can be a challenge. Whether your area is expecting two inches or two feet of accumulation, keep in mind these snow removal safety tips, courtesy of the experts at Troy-Bilt®:

1. Don't skimp on safety. Snow and ice often create dangerous outdoor conditions, so take as many safety precautions as possible. Make sure you’re dressed appropriately before heading out into the cold, and always reference the owner’s manual of any snow removal equipment you may be using.

2. Be prepared. Watch the forecast and what's happening outside. If snow starts to fall quickly and sticks to the ground, try to keep up with snow removal as best you can.

3. Know your surroundings. Outline designated clearing areas with stakes and colored flags prior to snowfall. The stakes serve as directional guides during cleanup to help you stay on task and from damaging parts of your property.

4. Shovel smart. If you're using a shovel to clear snow, be mindful of how much strain you place on your back and legs. Improper motion can leave you with pulled muscles or other physical aches after cleanup.

5. Move snow wisely. Be aware of where snow is being thrown from your shovel or equipment, as it can throw small debris and cause injury. Avoid throwing snow into the street or in the direction of bystanders at all times.

Source: Troy-Bilt®

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Renovating? Tips to Prevent Lead Exposure

January 26, 2016 1:52 am

Common renovation activities, like sanding, cutting and demolition, can stir up hazardous lead dust, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This dust can be harmful to both adults and children.

The federal Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule requires that contractors, property managers and others working for compensation in homes and child-occupied facilities built before 1978 be trained and use lead-safe work practices. They also must provide a copy of the brochure, “Renovate Right; Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers and Schools,” to owners and occupants before starting renovation work.

Homeowners completing their own renovations should take steps to protect themselves and their families from exposure to lead dust. These steps include:

- Containing the work area so that dust does not escape from the area; covering floors and furniture that cannot be moved with heavy duty plastic and tape; sealing off doors and heating and cooling system vents
- Keeping children, pregnant women, and pets out of the work area at all times
- Minimizing dust during the project by using techniques that generate less dust, such as wet sanding or scraping, or using sanders or grinders that have HEPA vacuum attachments, which capture the dust that is generated
- Cleaning up thoroughly by using a HEPA vacuum and wet wiping to clean up dust and debris on surfaces; mopping floors with plenty of rinse water before removing plastic containment from doors, windows, and vents

Keep in mind that certain emergency provisions of the RRP Rule may apply. Work covered under the rule’s provision for flood-damaged housing does not require advance notice or trained renovators to remove materials, including debris, from damaged homes. Also, emergency renovation activities are exempt from the rule’s warning sign, containment, waste-handling, training, and certification requirements—but only to the extent necessary to respond to the emergency. Cleaning, cleaning verification and record-keeping requirements still apply to emergency renovations. Other non-emergency renovation activities remain subject to the rule’s requirements, including the posting of signs and containment.

In addition, volunteers who do not receive compensation for work are not required to be trained and certified, under the rule. However, volunteers are strongly advised to educate themselves about lead-safe work practices to avoid causing health or safety hazards for themselves or others.

Source: EPA

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Safety at Home: Heat Sources Heighten Fire Risk

January 25, 2016 1:52 am

December, January and February are prime time for home heating equipment fires—in fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more than half of home heating equipment fires annually are reported in that timeframe. These fires can be caused by heating apparatus like stationary and portable space heaters, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces.

Proper installation can help reduce the risk of fire. When installing wood-burning stoves or gas heaters, for instance, follow the manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional perform the installation.

Simple safety practices can also help mitigate risk. Use your oven to cook food only; never use it to heat your home. When leaving the room (or going to bed), turn portable heaters off. Place a sturdy screen in front of the fireplace to prevent sparks from flying into the room, and burn only dry, seasoned wood. Allow ashes to cool before disposing them in a metal container, and ensure they are kept a safe distance from the home. Hire a qualified professional to clean and inspect heating equipment and chimneys every year.

These months also come with an increased risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Fuel-burning equipment, including vehicles and generators running in an attached garage, can produce dangerous levels of CO and should be vented to the outside to keep from building up in the home.
 
Installing and maintaining CO alarms can lessen the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Test smoke alarms and CO alarms monthly. If you smell gas in your gas heater or other appliance, do not light it. Leave the home immediately and call your local fire department or gas company for assistance.

If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.

Source: NFPA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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