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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Phone: 215-453-7883
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
Fax: 267-354-6800
email: tom@tomskiffington.com
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Tom's Blog

Q: Can You Negotiate the Price of a New Home?

February 11, 2014 7:42 pm

A: In real estate, almost everything is negotiable, so it is certainly worth a try. Now, this does not mean the builder will fall down and roll over. It is very common for builders to claim that their prices are based on fixed construction costs. Perhaps, but timing is everything.

A builder is more likely to be flexible on price at the very beginning and end of a project. Early on, most developers want to move people in quickly so the project builds momentum. In the end, they may be more inclined to accept lower offers when only a few units are left.

If you are unable to negotiate on price, negotiate for a better lot location or amenities, such as a carpet upgrade or light fixtures. A developer will rarely pass up a deal over a few hundred dollars' worth of carpeting. 

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Misconceptions Exposed - Multivitamins and Nutritional Supplements

February 10, 2014 3:39 pm

(BPT)—How often do you eat a cup of sautéed spinach? How about three servings of fatty fish, like salmon, per week? Probably not very often, but those are examples of foods and portions that are packed with the recommended amounts of essential nutrients. Research shows that Americans aren't making the nutrition grade and, therefore, can lack important vitamins and minerals like folic acid, vitamin E, vitamin K and even vitamin C.

"Even if you follow a healthy diet, a busy lifestyle can make it difficult to obtain the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals from food alone," says Elizabeth Somer, a leading registered dietician and author of several books, including "The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals."

Data on dietary intake from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which used the USDA's Healthy Eating Index to compare what people say they eat to recommended dietary guidelines, found that children and adults scored 56 points out of a possible 100 (equivalent to an "F" grade), while seniors fared only slightly better at 65 points (equivalent to a "D" grade). The American Heart Association agreed with those findings in its 2013 report on heart disease and stroke, concluding that poor diet and lack of exercise are two of the main factors contributing to the high prevalence of heart disease in the U.S.

One easy way to maintain good nutrition is to enhance your diet with supplements; however, the frequency of new studies combined with the staggering number of supplements available makes it increasingly confusing to know what's right.

Somer puts nutrition news in context, provides the facts for common misconceptions and offers realistic tips to meet daily nutrition needs:

Misconception 1: It's realistic to obtain all essential nutrients from food.

Even experienced nutritionists have a hard time designing a diet that provides all the essential nutrients for one day and busy Americans often struggle to follow a highly regimented diet. That's not to say it's impossible but the best approach is to focus on eating nutrient-rich foods as much as possible—like dark leafy greens (good source of lutein for eye health), colorful fruits, whole grains, healthy proteins and fats (such as salmon, which is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA)—and fill gaps in nutrition with a daily multivitamin. "Another supplement I always recommend is fish oil, or a vegetarian source from algae, because DHA and EPA benefit eye, heart and brain health," says Somer.

Misconception 2: Multivitamins have no health benefits.

Although recent studies report that vitamin and mineral supplements do not lower one's risk of heart disease or cancer, these supplements are still proven to be beneficial to one's health. "If a study found that people who drank water had no lower risk for dementia, would you stop drinking water?" asks Somer. "Of course not, because water, like essential vitamins and minerals, is crucial to health and there is no controversy over its importance for human nutrition."

Misconception 3: Multivitamins are a waste of money.

Multivitamins are a relatively inexpensive tool to achieve proper nutrition. "No reputable health expert will argue that supplements can or should replace a good diet and a healthy lifestyle," says Somer. "However, multivitamins and nutritional supplements are one factor in a pattern of living that is known to maintain overall well-being. Think of multivitamins as an insurance policy for optimal nutrition - they're meant to supplement, not replace, a healthy diet."

Source: www.vitaminsinmotion.com.

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Five Things to Buy in February

February 10, 2014 3:39 pm

February is a big month for flowers and candy—both of which are available at bargain prices after St. Valentine/s Day has passed. But, according to the consumer watchdogs at dailyfinance.com, there are at least five other things you can buy cheaply this month that will save you substantial dollars.

Look for February savings on:
Boats – This is the heart of the traditional winter boat sale season. It’s a good time to find bargains at marinas and boat shows and, if you want a gently used boat, from private owners who know they are competing for buyers. In either case, do your homework first an

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Word of the Day

February 10, 2014 3:39 pm

Mortgage broker. Individual or company that brings borrowers and lenders together; a loan broker.

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Q: Is There Such a Thing as “Over Improving” Your Home?

February 10, 2014 3:39 pm

A: Yes. The last thing you want to do when undertaking a home improvement is go overboard. This means fixing up the home to the point where it becomes worth far more than nearby neighborhood properties.

Down the road, when you may want to sell, potential homebuyers will be reluctant to pay, say, $200,000 for your home when others are priced at $150,000. If they want to pay that kind of money, they will likely make a purchase in a neighborhood where most of the homes sell in that price range.

Carefully measure the cost of any improvements you want to make against the overall values in your neighborhood. Otherwise, you may not recover your costs or increase your property value significantly. 

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Do You Live in Fear of an IRS Audit?

February 6, 2014 7:24 pm

It is no secret that one of the biggest fears people have is receiving an audit notice from the IRS. It ranks right up there with being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Of course, the IRS does nothing to alleviate this fear because the more frightened you are, the less likely you will be to cheat on your taxes.

The IRS audited one out of every 104 tax returns in federal fiscal year 2013. It’s becoming increasingly evident that the greater your total income, the more you’ll attract the agency’s attention. Last year, the IRS audited about 10.85 percent of taxpayers with income greater than $1 million. The audit rate dropped to 0.88 percent for those with income less than $200,000.

Some of the audits were taxpayers pulled at random. The rest of the returns are selected for examination in a variety of ways.

Lowering your IRS profile will help minimize your chances of being audited.  Here are five ways to help you stay off the audit list.

1. Large Itemized Deductions: The IRS has established ranges for the amount of itemized deductions based on a taxpayer’s income. Deductions that exceed the statistical “norm” for a given state and region may be red-flagged for a closer look. This does not mean that you shouldn’t take legitimate deductions. Your deductions could exceed the IRS range due to high medical expenses and large charitable contributions. Take all valid tax deductions – just be sure you keep your backup documentation.

2. Self-Employment Income: The IRS believes that the vast amount of underreported income occurs among the self-employed. Self-employed taxpayers are audited by the IRS far more frequently than those who receive a W-2 for wages. People who are employed by others and receive W-2 income but also run a business that reports a loss are especially high on the IRS radar screen. You will need to be able to prove you are operating a business with the intention of earning a profit and not just trying to write off the expenses of a hobby. You will need to be able to pass both the “passive loss” and “hobby loss” rules in order for the deductions to stick.

3. Business Expenses: Big deductions for business meals, travel and entertainment are always ripe for audit. A large write-off will raise red flags if the amount seems too high for the business. Taxpayers claiming 100 percent business use of a vehicle is also a huge red flag. The IRS knows it’s extremely rare for an individual to use a vehicle strictly for business.  The IRS looks for personal meals or claims that don’t satisfy the strict substantiation requirements.

4. Rental Properties: The IRS is scrutinizing rental real estate losses for those who claim to be real estate professionals.  You must meet two requirements:  1. More than half of the personal services are performed in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participate, and 2.You perform more than 750 hours of services in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participate.

5. Home Offices: Taxpayers who operate a business from their home are entitled to deduct the portion of their home that is dedicated to operating the business. The IRS believes that many taxpayers use this deduction as a means of writing off personal expenses and carefully scrutinize tax returns that claim the home office deduction. Claiming this deduction greatly increases the chances that your tax return will be audited. You should consult a tax expert to determine if you are entitled to claim this deduction. If the tax savings are minimal you may opt not to claim the deduction simply to avoid the scrutiny. For details, see IRS Publication 587.

There is no way to completely audit-proof your return, and if you do get an audit notice from the IRS, don’t take it personally. It does not mean the IRS believes your return is fraudulent. When you get a notice, pick up a copy of IRS Publication 1 “Your Rights as a Taxpayer.” Be courteous and helpful without volunteering more information than what is requested. Plan ahead so that you are organized and can answer questions promptly. Ask for a postponement if you need more time to prepare.

If you are a self-employed taxpayer or have unusual circumstances that place your return outside of the statistical norm, let a professional prepare the return. Self- prepared returns are themselves more likely to be audited. The IRS believes that a non-professional has limited knowledge of the 4,000 pages of tax code.

Tax law is complex. The fee charged by an Enrolled Agent or CPA can be easily justified by the peace of mind they bring if you get the dreaded audit notice.

Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, “The Retirement Specialists,” in Lancaster, Pa., and author of “The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach to Retirement Planning.”

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Building Your Professional Brand

February 6, 2014 7:24 pm

BPT—Personal branding is an elusive topic to most people, yet it is important for career success. Wise professionals with career success know it can mean the difference between landing that dream job and never getting noticed.

So what do you think of when you hear the word "professional brand?" Simply stated, a brand is a promise of the value you'll deliver. "You may think you don't need a brand, but the reality is that you already have one," says Jana Fallon, vice president, Executive Development for Prudential Financial. "By managing that professional reputation you already have, you increase your chances of being known for qualities that can land your dream job or get you noticed by a company you have always wanted to work. If you do start actively managing your brand, you can find real power in knowing and sharing what your unique differentiators are."

Fallon recommends five specific actions you can take today to improve your brand reputation.

B = Build

Build your brand by first defining what you want that brand to be. To make this simpler, it should include no more than three or four characteristics that describe what you offer or aspire to offer. It is good to be aspirational but it also must be realistic. If you are having trouble getting started, begin by asking people you trust what they immediately associate with you. Ask for honest feedback and listen to what you hear.

R = Reflect

Reflect on your strengths and liabilities frequently. What is the unique value that you have to offer and what do you aspire to be? Think about your strengths and what you do really well. What do you want to be known for in business? What differentiates you? Use those reflections to establish your unique brand. Perhaps you want to be known as a very curious, engaged consultant. Or perhaps your unique brand is one of intelligence, candor and strong ethics.

A = Actions speak

In order to sustain your brand, you have to act accordingly. Your behaviors and the decisions you make daily impact your brand. Be bold in defining your brand and then have the courage to live up to that brand promise. If you are finding it challenging to start living your brand, find someone that has a style, behavior or an approach that you admire. Emulate what works. Try it yourself and see if it feels right for you. Experiment until you find your own authentic behavior.

N = Network nonstop

To get others to recognize your brand, you have to market yourself. This clearly takes time and effort, but it can be done effectively if you follow these key steps. To share your brand, network in the organization you work in, outside work with other professional contacts and in your community. Make yourself visible to those that can influence your career.

The key to a successful professional brand is having strong "word-of-mouth marketing" from friends, coworkers, customers and other contacts. Having a strong brand means finding ways to network and manage what those contacts know and then say to others about your capabilities.

D = Decide today

"Decide to make managing your professional brand a priority," Fallon says. "Carve out time each week to fine tune and evolve your defined brand. Make time to reflect and try out new behaviors and to expand your network. There is real power in knowing where you are focused and letting others know for what you aspire to be known."

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Word of the Day

February 6, 2014 7:24 pm

FHA. Acronym for Federal Housing Authority, an agency created within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that insures mortgages on residential property, with downpayment requirements usually lower than prevailing ones.

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Q: Should I Put More or Less Down, If I Can Afford It?

February 6, 2014 7:24 pm

A: Putting down as little as possible lets you take full advantage of the tax benefits of homeownership. Mortgage interest and property taxes are both fully deductible from state and federal income taxes. Also, making a small down payment frees up cash that you can use to meet unexpected home improvements.

Some real estate experts contend it is more economical, however, to make a larger down payment, thus reducing the amount of debt financed over the life of the loan. A borrower could potentially save several thousand dollars, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Putting off Working on Your Tax Return May Cost You

February 5, 2014 7:18 pm

Nearly 150 million Americans will file federal income tax returns this year and, unfortunately, many will be shelling out much more of their hard-earned money than necessary, says veteran financial expert Jeff Gorton.

“With the ridiculous complexity of our tax code, I can understand how the average person might want to put off doing their homework, but that’ll cost you,” says Gorton, a veteran Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner™, and head of Gorton Financial Group (www.gortonfinancialgroup.com).

“When you think about all you do to earn your money, and the lengths we’ll go to save a few bucks, it doesn’t make sense to not do all we can to prepare for the inevitable – our compulsory contribution to Uncle Sam’s bank account.”

There is nothing unpatriotic about taking advantage of legal measures to reduce your tax bill, Gorton says. Most Americans, however, don’t understand the basics of how to minimize the tax burden, he says.

“If you wait until the last minute to do your taxes, you’re sure to miss out on savings,” says Gorton, who offers some basic and more advanced tax-saving options.

• Credits: Tax credits are usually subtracted dollar for dollar from the actual tax liability and may be utilized when filing for 2013. They include the Child Tax Credit, which allows up to $1,000 for children younger than 17; the American Opportunity Credit, featuring up to $2,500 in tax savings per eligible student for tuition costs for four years of post-high-school education; and the Energy-Efficient Home Improvement Tax Credit, which grants qualifying taxpayers 10 percent of the cost of certain energy-efficient building materials — up to a $500 lifetime credit. The Child and Dependent Care Credit, for those who have to pay someone to care for a child younger than 13, or another dependent, offers up to $3,000 for one qualifying individual, or up to $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals.

• Deductions: Like tax credits, deductions have phase-out limits, so you may want to consult with a professional. Deductions are subtracted from your income before your taxes are calculated, which may reduce the amount of money on which you are taxed and, by extension, your eventual tax liability. Some examples include contributions made to qualifying charitable organizations. And, you may be able to write off out-of-pocket costs incurred while doing work for a charity. Others may include amounts set aside for retirement through a qualified retirement plan, such as an Individual Retirement Account; medical expenses exceeding 10 percent of your adjusted gross income are now deductible – expenses exceeding 7.5 percent are still deductible for those older than age 65; and, potentially, mortgage interest paid on a loan secured for your primary residence.

• Tax-favored investing: This involves both tax-exempt investments and tax-deferred investments. Tax-exempt investments, which include such vehicles as municipal bonds and certain money market funds, offer a way to grow your money that’s exempt from federal taxes. Municipal bonds are free of federal income tax and may be free of state and local income taxes for investors who live in the area where the bond was issued. Tax-deferred investments, on which taxes are postponed until you withdraw your money, include qualified retirement plans, such as traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored plans, as well as insurance products such as annuities and, sometimes, life insurance.

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