Ready, Set, Glow: 10 Tips for Bright, Beautiful Holiday Displays

To say holiday displays have gone extreme is an understatement. (“The Great Christmas Light Fight,” anyone?) But holiday lights don’t have to be over-the-top to have an impact—in fact, just a few professional-grade tricks are all it takes to create a sparkling, festive display.

1. Use LED lights. They burn at a lower temperature and use nearly 90 percent less energy than incandescent lights, making them a safer and more efficient option.

2. Choose a theme. Whether you prefer traditional or a more colorful, contemporary approach, keep your theme consistent to create an attractive and cohesive look.

3. Be unique. Be true to yourself in your design. Find something that speaks to your style and make that the focus of your display.

4. Use a timer. Timers are great investments that save energy and hassle. Set your timer to come on about 30 minutes before sunset and to go off between 11 p.m. and midnight.

5. Select a shade. LED lights come in two shades of white: traditional warm white and cool white. Both create a dazzling holiday look.

6. Don't over-do it. You can create a car-stopping display (without becoming the Griswolds) by adding eye-catching elements like character figures or animation lighting.

7. Use daytime décor. Since lights don't read well during the day, add daytime décor, such as greenery of character figures, to keep your home looking festive all day long.

8. Never use outdated products. Test all your lighting products before installation to confirm that all are in good working order. Replace any questionable or worn bulb or light strand.

9. Highlight the features. Outline a distinct roof line or windows with lights, drape an archway with a lit garland, or light the pathway to your home's door.

10. Don't forget the backyard. Decorate a small area in your backyard to create a holiday focus through your windows.

Source: Christmas Décor, Inc.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact me at 866-977-7623.

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€˜Tis the Season to Prepare Your Home for Cold Weather

Approximately one-fifth of homeowners insurance claims are brought on by damage caused by water or cold temperatures—much of which comes as a result of snowy conditions, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). Although standard homeowners and renters policies cover winter-related damage, such as that caused by burst pipes, ice dams and wind, as well as damage caused by either the weight of ice or snow, there are a few steps homeowners can take to protect their homes before winter kicks in. These include:

Cleaning out the gutters. Remove leaves, sticks and other debris so melting snow and ice can flow freely, which prevents damming, a condition in which water seeps into the house, potentially damaging ceilings and walls.

Installing gutter guards. This prevents debris from entering the gutter and interfering with the flow of water away from the house and into the ground.

Trimming trees and removing dead branches. Ice, snow and wind can cause weak trees or branches to break and damage your home or car, or injure someone walking by your property.

Adding extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. If too much heat escapes through the attic, it can cause snow or ice to melt and then re-freeze on the roof, resulting in an ice dam that can cause significant roof damage. Well-insulated basements, crawl spaces and unfinished rooms, such as garages, protect pipes from freezing.

Providing a reliable back-up power source. In the event of an electrical outage, continuous power will help prevent frozen pipes. Consider purchasing a portable generator to ensure your household’s safety.
 
Keep in mind that coverage for flooding, including flooding caused by melting snow, is available from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and from some private insurance companies.
 
Remember also that melting snow can overburden sewer systems, causing raw sewage to back up into the drains in your home. Backed up sewers can cause thousands of dollars in damage to floors, walls, furniture and electrical systems. Sewer back-up coverage can be purchased either as a separate product or as an endorsement to your homeowners or renters policy.

Source: I.I.I.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact me at 866-977-7623.

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FHA Announces New Loan Limits to Take Effect January 1st

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) recently announced the agency's new schedule of loan limits for 2016. These loan limits are effective for case numbers assigned on or after January 1, 2016, and will remain in effect through the end of the year.
 
Due to changes in housing prices, the maximum loan limits for forward mortgages increased in 188 counties. There were no areas with a decrease in the maximum loan limits for forward mortgages.

Each year, FHA recalculates its loan limits based on 115  percent of the median house price in the area. For counties, or equivalent, located in Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) the limit for all areas in the MSA is calculated based on the highest cost county.

There is no change to the FHA national loan limit “ceiling” which remains at $625,500 and the “floor” which remains at $271,050.   FHA’s minimum national loan limit “floor” is set at 65 percent of the national conforming loan limit of $417,000. The floor applies to those areas where 115 percent of the median home price is less than 65 percent of the national conforming loan limit.

Any area where the loan limit exceeds the “floor” is considered a high cost area. The maximum FHA loan limit “ceiling” for high cost areas is 150 percent of the national conforming limit. 

Additional information and loan limit adjustments for two-, three-, and four-unit properties, and in Special Exception Areas, are noted in FHA's mortgagee letter. An attachment to the Mortgagee Letter provides information on which counties are eligible for loan limits above the national standard. Borrowers with existing FHA insured mortgages may continue to utilize FHA's Streamline refinance program regardless of their loan balance.

The mortgage loan limits for FHA-insured reverse mortgages will also remain unchanged. The FHA reverse-mortgage product, known as the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), will continue to have a maximum claim amount of $625,500, with actual limits based on property value, borrower age, and current interest rates. Reverse mortgages allow homeowners age 62 and older to age in place by borrowing against the value of their homes without any requirements for monthly payments; no repayment is required as long as a homeowner lives in the home. The reverse mortgage is repaid, with interest, when the homeowner leaves the home.

To find a complete list of FHA loan limits, areas at the FHA ceiling, areas between the floor and the ceiling, as well as a list of areas with loan limit increases, visit FHA’s Loan Limits Page.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact me at 866-977-7623.

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Understanding the Flood Insurance Act: What You Need to Know

By Keith Loria

When it comes to selling a home, there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration, one being location. And for those looking to sell a home in an area that’s considered at-risk for flooding, the process can be somewhat challenging. 

Over the past decade, storms like Hurricane Sandy have wreaked havoc on many parts of the country, causing insurance rates to go even higher, which is ultimately having a negative effect on home sales. According to data from the National Association of REALTORS®, from October 2013 to January 2014, over 40,000 home sales were either delayed or canceled because of increases and confusion over flood insurance rates.

This led to some swift action by President Barack Obama, who, following the release of these figures, said that homes in flood-prone areas would no longer be subject to sharp increases in flood insurance premiums when they’re sold, or when a new flood map places them in a higher-risk area.

On March 21, 2014, President Obama signed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 into law, which repeals and modifies certain provisions of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which was enacted in 2012, and makes additional program changes to other aspects of the program not covered by the Act. 

“The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, S. 1926 is the time-out REALTORS® first advocated when dramatic flood insurance premium increases went into effect on October 1, 2013,” said Steve Brown, president of NAR in a statement at the time of the passage of the bill. “This legislation will help homeowners nationwide who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of extreme flood insurance rates that are the unintended consequence of the Biggert-Waters reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program.”

The new law caps flood insurance premium increases and allows below-market insurance rates to be passed on to people buying homes in flood zones with taxpayer-subsidized policies.

Still, it’s not good news for everyone. Those who live in older homes and enjoy subsidized flood insurance rates could still see annual increases in their premiums of up to 18 percent. Furthermore, homes in high-risk areas (labeled with codes starting with A or V on flood maps) will need to pay a new premium surcharge of either $25 or $250 per year to help offset the cost of the new bill. The surcharge applies to all properties that have national flood insurance, even those paying the full-risk rate.

Brown believes this is the first step in what he hopes is a retooling of the way Congress looks at the flood law, and expects it to help with home sales going forward.

FEMA classifies flood risk as something unique to each structure and looks at factors such as the elevation of the property relative to predicted flood levels, the construction style of the building, and the flood risk zone. It also publishes flood hazard maps that show predicted flood levels and flood risk zones based on historical climate information and the best available science. Some common examples of Special Flood Hazard Areas include coastal floodplains, floodplains along major rivers, and areas subject to flooding from ponding in low lying areas.

For more information about the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, contact our office today. 

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact me at 866-977-7623.

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Mortgage Momentum Moves Rates Higher

The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate ticked slightly higher on a better than expected November employment report, according to the recently released Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey®.

"The economy added 211,000 new jobs in November exceeding analysts' expectations, and the prior two months were revised higher as well,” says Sean Becketti, chief economist, Freddie Mac. “This momentum is likely to cement a decision by the Fed to begin raising interest rates this month. Following the release of the employment report, Treasuries rose 7 basis points and in response the 30-year mortgage rate ticked up two basis points to 3.95 percent."

Results show that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.95 percent with an average 0.6 point for the week ending December 10, 2015, up from last week when it averaged 3.93 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.93 percent.

The 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.19 percent with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.16 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.20 percent.

Additionally, the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.03 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.99 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.98 percent.

The 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.64 percent this week with an average 0.2 point, up from 2.61 percent last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.40 percent. 

For more information, visit www.FreddieMac.com.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact me at 866-977-7623.

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What to Know about Title Insurance

Purchasing a home is the single largest investment most will make in their lifetime. That investment is protected by title insurance—the cost of which varies across the country. To determine title insurance policy premium costs in your area, the American Land Title Association (ALTA) recommends consulting with a local title company to get detailed information.

In order to make sure a homeowner has clear rights to a property, the title agent will review prior deeds or mortgages, divorce decrees, court judgments, delinquent taxes and child and spousal support payments, utility or other easements and more. This work is necessary to issue the insurance policy and often includes the cost of conducting a title search, examination, correcting errors, issuing the policy, and, frequently, the settlement or closing for consumers.

When comparing fees, it’s important to get detailed information about what services are included in a fee to help ensure equal comparisons. In some states, the seller pays for the owner’s title insurance policy. Some rates may or may not include other services provided by the title company, such as conducting the closing, preparing and notarizing documents and other services. When comparing one rate to another, be sure to get detailed information on what is included in that rate, so you are comparing equally.

Many choose to rely on their real estate agent or mortgage lender for a recommendation for a title company; however, it is important to remember that you have the right to shop for title insurance and to choose your own title agent or company, says the ALTA. There are many factors to consider when selecting a title insurance company, such as local expertise, service standards, market conduct and commitment to the community.

Source: ALTA

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact me at 866-977-7623.

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Foreclosure Starts at Lowest Level in More Than 10 Years

Foreclosure filings — default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions — were reported on 104,111 U.S. properties in November, a decrease of nearly 10 percent from the previous month and down more than 7 percent from a year ago. This news comes from RealtyTrac®'s recently released U.S. Foreclosure Market Report™ for November 2015.

The 10 percent monthly decrease in overall foreclosure activity was caused largely by a 15 percent monthly drop in foreclosure starts, with 41,208 properties starting the foreclosure process for the first time in November, the lowest monthly total since May 2005. Foreclosure starts have decreased on a monthly basis for seven of the last eight months — with the exception of a monthly increase in October — and November was the fifth consecutive month where national foreclosure starts decreased on a year-over year basis.
 
“Banks are continuing to work through the backlog of lingering foreclosures, pushing bank repossession numbers higher in the short term even as foreclosure starts drop to new lows,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. “This also means the share of active foreclosures tied to bubble-era loans is shrinking, with 59 percent of all loans in foreclosure originated between 2004 and 2008. While that is still a disproportionate share of active foreclosures, it continues to decrease from 61 percent earlier this year and 75 percent two years ago.”
 
Bucking the national trend, there were nine states where foreclosure starts increased from a year ago, including Oklahoma (up 246 percent), Arkansas (up 180 percent), Virginia (up 39 percent), Maine (up 5 percent), and Massachusetts (up 14 percent).
 
Bank Repossessions up 35 percent Year-to-Date

There were a total of 40,329 properties repossessed by lenders (REOs) in November, up 10 percent from the previous month and up 60 percent from a year ago — the ninth consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in REOs. Through the first 11 months of 2015 there have been 410,249 completed foreclosures, up 35 percent from 303,064 REOs during the same time period in 2014.
 
REOs increased from a year ago in 41 states, led by Tennessee (up 608 percent), Mississippi (up 341 percent), Texas (298 percent), Nebraska (up 295 percent), New York (up 270 percent) and New Jersey (up 205 percent).
 
Those states that saw the most completed foreclosures for the month included Florida (6,435 REOs), Texas (3,107 REOs), California (2,567 REOs), Illinois (2,338 REOs), and Georgia (2,302 REOs).
 
Scheduled Foreclosure Auctions at Lowest Level since December 2005

A total of 36,409 U.S. properties were scheduled for foreclosure auction during the month, down 22 percent from the previous month and down 27 percent from a year ago.
 
Scheduled foreclosure auctions — which can be foreclosure starts in some states — decreased from a year ago in 31 states, including Hawaii (down 87 percent), Florida (down 58 percent), Georgia (down 48 percent), Texas (down 46 percent), Oregon (down 39 percent), Colorado (down 34 percent), and Washington (down 33 percent).
 
There were 10 states where scheduled foreclosure auctions increased annually , including New Jersey (up 82 percent), Maryland (up 6 percent), New York (up 3 percent), Massachusetts (up 39 percent), and New Mexico (up 109 percent).
 
Maryland, New Jersey, Florida, Nevada and Illinois Post Highest state Foreclosure Rates

A total of 4,631 Maryland properties had a foreclosure filing in November, down nearly 10 percent from the previous month, but still up 13 percent from a year ago — making Maryland number one in the nation for foreclosures for the second month in a row. One in every 516 Maryland housing units had a foreclosure filing in November, more than twice the national average. Foreclosure starts increased 13 percent from a year ago after six consecutive months of year-over-year decreases.
 
The state of New Jersey accounted for 6,448 properties receiving a foreclosure filing in November, a foreclosure rate of one in every 553 housing units — second highest among the states. New Jersey foreclosure activity in November decreased 15 percent from the previous month, and was down 13 percent from a year ago — the first annual decrease after eight consecutive months of increases.
 
One in every 662 Florida housing units received a foreclosure filing in November, the nation’s third highest state foreclosure rate. Florida’s foreclosure rate has ranked in the Top 5 each month in 2015.  Florida foreclosure activity decreased 13 percent from the previous month and was down 30 percent from a year ago. Florida foreclosure starts decreased annually by 36 percent, the fourth consecutive month of annual decreases. Scheduled foreclosure auctions in Florida decreased 58 percent from a year ago, the 12thconsecutive month of decreases.
 
Nevada foreclosure activity decreased 23 percent from the previous month, but increased 2 percent from a year ago, giving the state the nation’s fourth highest state foreclosure rate: one in every 771 housing units with a foreclosure filing. Nevada foreclosure starts decreased 17 percent annually, the fifth consecutive month of decreases. Scheduled foreclosure auctions decreased 12 percent annually, the fourth consecutive month of decreases. Nevada bank repossessions increased 89 percent, the eighth consecutive month of increases.
 
After two consecutive months of annual increases, Illinois foreclosure activity decreased 21 percent from the previous month in November, and the state posted the nation’s fifth highest foreclosure rate: one in every 859 housing units with a foreclosure filing.
 
Other states with foreclosure rates among the nation’s 10 highest in November were South Carolina at No. 6 (one in every 873 housing units with a foreclosure filing); Ohio at No. 7 (one in every 1,014 housing units); Georgia at No. 8 (one in every 1,083 housing units); Indiana at No. 9 (one in every 1,089 housing units); and North Carolina at No. 10 (one in every 1,139 housing units).
 
Atlantic City Posts Top Metro Foreclosure Rate for Fifth Consecutive Month

The Atlantic City, New Jersey metro area remained in the No. 1 spot among metropolitan statistical areas with a population of 200,000 or more for the fifth consecutive month in November. One in every 307 Atlantic City housing units had a foreclosure filing in November, more than four times the national average. Atlantic City maintained the top spot even though overall activity was down 16 percent from the previous month and down 6 percent from a year ago. Bank repossessions in Atlantic City increased for the ninth consecutive month.
 
Foreclosure activity in November increased 32 percent from a year ago in Trenton, New Jersey, and the metro area posted the nation’s second highest foreclosure rate: one in every 346 housing units with a foreclosure filing. Scheduled foreclosure auctions increased annually in Trenton for the seventh consecutive month, and bank repossessions increased annually for the 10th consecutive month.
 
Foreclosure activity increased 9 percent from a year ago in Ocala, Florida, and the metro area posted the nation’s third highest metro foreclosure rate: one in every 449 housing units with a foreclosure filing).
 
Other metro areas with foreclosure rates in the top 10 highest were Baltimore, Md. at No. 4 (one in every 482 housing units with a foreclosure filing), Reading, Penn. at No. 5 (one in every 502), Tampa, Fla. at No. 6 (one in every 512), Columbia, S.C. at No. 7 (one in every 523), Fayetteville, N.C. at No. 8 (one in every 536), Jacksonville, Fla. at No. 9 (one in every 552), and Daytona Beach, Fla. at No. 10 (one in every 567).

For more information, click here.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact me at 866-977-7623.

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Q: Which Is Better, a 15-year or 30-year Loan?

A: The 15-year mortgage offers you a chance to save thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. This is because the interest rate is typically lower and amortization is half that of the 30-year loan, which means that the total interest paid on the 15-year note, as compared to a 30-year note, is significantly less because of the shorter borrowing period.

Put another way, a 15-year loan accrues principal much more quickly than a 30-year loan, so you get to own your house in half the time.

However, because you are building equity faster and paying down the loan sooner, a 15-year mortgage requires higher monthly payments.

Get a lender to help you calculate the overall savings of the 15-year loan versus the 30-year mortgage. In the end, though, base your decision on your circumstances and overall financial plan, such as whether you are nearing retirement age and also will have to shell out college expenses for children, in which case a 15-year loan may not be for you.  Remember that your spending habits, budget, and financial goals should all be considered before making a final decision.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact me at 866-977-7623.

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Mortgage Rates Drop Third Week in a Row

The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate declined for the third consecutive week, according to the recently released Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®).

"Treasury yields ticked down 3 basis points after weak manufacturing data,” says Sean Becketti, chief economist, Freddie Mac. “In response, the 30-year mortgage rate dropped 2 basis points to 3.93 percent. After the survey closed, Yellen implied that the economy is ready for a rate hike in December. However, all eyes remain on this Friday's jobs report, the last significant release prior to the FOMC's meeting."

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.93 percent with an average 0.6 point for the week ending December 3, 2015, down from the last week when it averaged 3.95 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.89 percent.

Survey results show the 15-year FRM averaged 3.16 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from the last week when it averaged 3.18 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.10 percent.

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.99 percent  with an average 0.5 point, down from the last week when it averaged 3.01 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.94 percent.

Results show the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.61 percent with an average 0.3 point, up from 2.59 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.41 percent.

For more information, visit www.freddiemac.com

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact me at 866-977-7623.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.


From Campus to Closing Costs: A College Grad’s Guide to Home Buying

By Terri Engels

You’ve packed up your dorm room, thrown your Frisbee into storage, and have bid adieu to those cumbersome textbooks. College has culminated, so what now? This exciting time in a young person’s life is ruled by one question: what’s next? For many, that answer takes quite a while to define.

Many millennials are open to moving back to their parents’ houses after college. But for some, moving home may not be a viable option or, at the very least, seems an undesirable path post-college. This is leading recent college grads to a fork in the road: should I rent or should I buy? With renting costs continuing to rise, many recent graduates are deciding on the latter.
 
So, as a recent college graduate, what do you need to know when buying your first home?
 
What does the future hold?
It can be very daunting to map out the next ten years of your life just as your tassel has been moved to the left. Impulsive decisions should be left in the dorm room and recent grads need to plan where and what they will be doing before considering buying property. Thinking like a real estate investor rather than making emotional or rash decisions can help guide the thought process.
 
"Before college grads think about buying a home, they should have both a stable job and firm plans to live in the neighborhood for at least the next five years,” says Brian Davis, VP of ezLandlordForms. “If a recent grad is cemented and secure in their current location then they should talk to several mortgage lenders (starting with their bank) about their loan qualifications.”

What should recent college grads see as red flags in their future? For example, do you plan to go back to school? If so, then buying a home right after undergraduate studies isn’t smart. Another factor is where you want to live. Many recent college graduates will gravitate to hip, chic areas where property values are through the roof. You have to ask yourself if you can afford an area like that and if not, whether you would be happy in a less desirable part of town.

Buying your first home is a huge decision, so all the factors together can become overwhelming. However, if you are mentally prepared to take the journey then you need to be certain that your wallet can handle the weight as well.

Plan, Plan, Plan
Before you even think of picking up a pen and inking a deal for a mortgage, it’s important to be aware of your financial standing. With technology essentially being ingrained in a young person’s DNA, budgeting has never been easier. There are a slew of apps for smart phones that are tailor-made for budgeting and planning your finances. These can enable you to see what you may be able to afford and when.

In addition to knowing the precise state of your finances, it is important to know your credit score. Just hearing these words alone can send people into a panic, but for an easy way to check it visit AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only site that’s federally mandated and an authorized source for a free credit report. Be wary of any other sites that promise to run your credit for free.

Once you know your score you can decide what next steps to take. If it’s too low to even apply for a home loan (anything below 580), it’s time to get your credit in order. You should open up a credit card and pay it on time, stay on top of your student loans, and make sure you don’t have any lingering past due debt.

Many new buyers also don’t factor in the hidden costs of buying their first home. As well as the down payment on the property (which has proven tricky for recent grads to raise due to student loans), there are also appraisal charges, closing costs, taxes, insurance and property inspection fees.

Much like school itself, the best thing a recent college graduate can do is their homework. Thankfully, you can get a hand by partnering up with a team of professionals. As long as you think with a clear head and have a healthy financial standing, you could soon be hanging that fancy diploma in your very own home.

This post was originally published on RISMedia's blog, Housecall. Check the blog daily for winning real estate tips and trends for you and your clients.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact me at 866-977-7623.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.