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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
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Office Phone: 215-453-7653
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Tom's Blog

Word of the Day

February 3, 2014 7:15 pm

Conveyance. Document used to transfer title. A deed is a conveyance.

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Q: How do you determine how much a home is worth?

February 3, 2014 7:15 pm

A: The short answer: a home is ultimately worth what is paid for it. Everything else is really an estimate of value. Take, for example, a hot seller’s market when demand for housing is high but the inventory of available homes for sale is low. During this time, homes can sell above and beyond the asking price as buyers bid up the price. The fair market value, or worth, is established when “a meeting of the minds” between you and the buyer takes place.

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Vacation Homeowners: Do You Know the Top Amenities Renters Search For?

February 3, 2014 1:15 pm

There’s one undeniable truth about vacation home renters: The early bird gets the worm—and she’s willing to pay top dollar for it! That’s why smart vacation rental owners set out to make their properties attractive to these oh-so-lucrative early birds, well, early. Yes, now is the time to start getting your ocean-view condo or woodsy cabin ready to stand out in the cyber lineup. And according to vacation home expert Christine Karpinski, that means one thing: It’s time to “amenity up.”

Once your home is passed up, most people won’t go back to view it again,” warns Karpinski, author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 3rd Edition: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment. “If you want to secure that booking, you need to catch people’s attention the first time—and that means making sure their desired amenities are present and accounted for.”

In other words, you need to know what amenities renters tend to look for and make sure your home has them (or, at least, most of them). And—more to the point—you need to shine a brilliant spotlight on these amenities in your listing.

No, I’m not suggesting you spend thousands of dollars building a tennis court in your backyard—unless, that is, you were thinking about doing it anyway,” says Karpinski. “But what you can do is let potential guests know that there’s one accessible to them just a block away. The idea is to give people what they are looking for in some form or fashion—and it doesn’t have to mean costly upgrades. It’s mostly about smart marketing.”

Read on for the top amenities that renters are looking for—and how you can make sure that yours are coming up in their searches:

Pool - It should come as no big surprise that vacationers enjoy taking a dip in the pool while on vacation. Pools are a form of entertainment in and of themselves, so when people go on vacation, they typically look for some body of water in close proximity. Even if you don’t have a pool in your own backyard, advertise the shared pool in your complex or a nearby community pool.

Whether for sun bathing, exercise, or simply for splashing around, a pool comes up as the number one search criterion for many vacationers,” asserts Karpinski. “If you want your home to stand tall and proud amongst the other ads, be sure to put any pool, lake, or beach access your home may have front and center in your listing.”

Hot Tub - Hot tubs have become a must-have amenity in many markets, especially those with cooler weather. Having a hot tub in your listing can even increase the shoulder season “rentability” of properties—especially in areas with chilly spring and fall seasons. In other words, that hot tub on the deck or screened-in porch could mean more renters all year long.

If your home does not have one, purchasing a hot tub might be well worth the cost when you consider all the renters it may attract in the cooler months,” notes Karpinski.

• “Jacuzzi” Tub (No, it’s not necessarily synonymous with the previous listed amenity!) - Just like Kleenex and Google, Jacuzzi is a brand name that has become the generic term for its category. While many travelers may use the word interchangeably with “hot tub” (meaning the outdoor variety), others search for Jacuzzi when seeking a whirlpool bathtub. In other words, if it has warm water, jets, and bubbles, chances are people are calling it a Jacuzzi, so keep that in mind when putting your property listing together.

If you own a jetted bathtub, consider selecting both the hot tub and Jacuzzi checkboxes in the amenities section of your listing,” suggests Karpinski. “Also select both if you have a hot tub. Just be sure to specify which type you have in the free text section of your listing so as not to mislead your guests.”

• “Pet Friendliness” - According to the Travel Industry Association of America, approximately 30 million people travel with their pets each year. Although it may not be a traditional amenity, accepting pets at your vacation rental could significantly increase your bookings. Remember, it costs hundreds of dollars for guests to board their dogs or hire a sitter. Even if you charge a pet fee or a refundable pet deposit, it will still cost guests far less than leaving their four-footed friends at home.

I’ve known homeowners to double their bookings when they start allowing pets,” notes Karpinski. “This is a great way to add value to your home at virtually no cost. And if you’re worried that someone’s dog will destroy your house, don’t be. If she is willing to bring along her pet, that pet is almost certainly well-behaved. And your guest will be so grateful that she’ll take extra care to ensure that her furry family member doesn’t scratch up the furniture or do his business on the carpet.”

TV - Even with the rising popularity of HDTVs, just plain “TV” remains a popular search term that people use in their hunt for that perfect home. In your description include the number of TVs in your home, taking care to mention any located in bedrooms. (Many travelers look for this detail.) Also, it doesn’t hurt to include more details in your listing about any high-end televisions you may have. “Cable” and “satellite TV” also rank highly in traveler searches. If you have an HDTV in the home, make sure you upgrade the box and pay that extra five or so dollars for those HD channels. Your guests will enjoy having them—and of course don’t forget to also highlight in your advertisements that you pay for HD channels.

Vacationing is about relaxing and many a guest is content propped up on the couch with the remote control in their hand—especially if that big game is on. If your home pipes in hundreds of channels, including those big sports packages, be sure to include that in the home’s description. Of course, many vacations are filled with so much activity that it’s impossible to coordinate being back at the house in time for kickoff. For this reason, having a DVR in the home is another amenity worth mentioning.

Tennis - If you don’t have a tennis court in your backyard, subdivision, or complex, consider looking up local courts and including information about them in your listing. Many vacationers understand that tennis courts could be considered a hard-to-access amenity; if your home does have court access, shout it from the heavens. This just might be the amenity that reels them in.

Internet - Even on vacation, travelers still want (and need) to be connected, and wireless Internet has become the preferred method. If you don’t already offer a WiFi connection, contact your local cable or phone company for more details. It’s fairly inexpensive to add this amenity to your home and, in this day and age, it’s as much of a necessity as running water and electricity.

Pool Table - Pool tables are especially popular in certain ski and mountain regions because they offer reliable indoor entertainment. And if you’re looking to put your money on something that will make a big statement at a reasonable price, adding one to your home will do just that. Obviously, you don’t have to go top of the line and shell out $25,000 for a high-end pool table. Check out your local sporting goods store and you’ll likely find a perfectly nice model for around $1,000. If this still seems like a lot to spend, ask around and search the classified ads for used tables. Chances are you’ll come across people willing to sell theirs for next to nothing.

Fireplace - When vacationing in a cooler climate, renters look forward to cuddling up by the fireplace after a long day outdoors. If you have one, be sure to really play it up in your listing. For slightly warmer destinations, an outdoor fireplace can be a huge draw for off-season travelers. And while adding a full-fledged fireplace, chimney and all, to an existing home may prove to be prohibitively expensive, there are plenty of portable fireplaces that you can pick up at the home improvement store that don’t require a contractor and construction crew to install.

Adding a portable fireplace is a wonderful way to add warmth and ambiance to your property,” notes Karpinski. “And there are plenty of models to be had for just a few hundred dollars.”

Porch - No matter what type of outdoor living area you have—a porch, deck, terrace, or patio—be sure to provide a detailed description and photo(s) in your listing. Another popular search term is “balcony,” so don’t forget that keyword when posting a photo of your view. Add the appropriate outdoor furniture and you have an inviting “bonus” living space that renters will love. Oh—and don’t forget to include pictures of that stunning view!

Not only is it a great idea to include photos of the porch itself, also show photos of that beautiful view of the ocean, mountains, or even those city lights,” notes Karpinski. “And don’t forget the power of words! Describe that porch and its view in a way that potential renters can imagine themselves sitting there with a glass of iced tea in hand, enjoying their home away from home.”

If, after reading this list, you’re tempted to invest in a new amenity—say, a portable outdoor fireplace or a pool table—go for it. Chances are it will pay off quickly.

Sometimes it really is a good idea to invest a few thousand dollars to make your home more desirable to vacationers,” concludes Karpinski. “Many upgrades will pay for themselves after just a couple of extra bookings. Besides, your expenditure may be a tax write-off! If you’re considering adding amenities to your vacation home, let these top requests from actual travelers guide you. When peak season gets here, you’ll be glad you listened to them.”

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What Did The Average Home Improvements Cost In 2013?

February 3, 2014 1:15 pm

I wonder how much an average person spends on home improvements every year?

Thanks to some number crunching at HUD and the US Census Bureau, with some assistance from the National Association of Home Builders, we now have a good idea how much the average homeowner paid for improvements in the country's top five population zip codes last year.

According to NAHB and the HUD/Census stats, folks in the 94528 zip code in the San Francisco Bay area topped out the per-household home improvement payout at $5,653. At number five on the list is the 11765 zip in New York, where the per-household cost was $4,730 - putting the average at around 5,350.

While the high and low points of that price spread are not far apart, another breakout from the stats is very interesting.

The average home improvement in California's 94027 zip code saw 2,016 owner-occupied homes getting improvements costing an average of $4,752. While New York's 10004 zip saw only 435 projects - each totaling just a few dollars more per household at $4,766.

According to the NAHB, the estimates are based on a statistical model developed by NAHB, using data from the HUD/Census Bureau American Housing Survey.

That data relates remodeling expenditures to the number of owner-occupied homes in the corresponding zip code; the share of those homes built in the 1960s and 1970s; the average homeowners’ income; and the share of owners who are college educated.

The model is applied to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, using geographic boundaries developed by the Census Bureau to capture zip code mailing addresses.

While the median level of spending on improvements is $1,400 per owner-occupied home, it can be as high as $5,000 in particular cases. In our next two segments, we'll take a look at those two price points, in relation to what you can get in a home improvement project - stay tuned.

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Word of the Day

February 3, 2014 1:15 pm

Tax credit. An allowed deduction that can be subtracted from your income tax. If you are entitled to a $1,500 credit, and your income tax would otherwise be $10,000, the credit would reduce the tax due to $8,500.

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Q: Are there ways to save money when using a contractor?

February 3, 2014 1:15 pm

A: Chances are you will have to pay the going rate for contractors in your area. Architects or designers will typically cost 12 to 20 percent more.

But remember you will want a home improvement that is done right the first time. That said, there are still ways you can save if you do decide to work with a contractor:

  • Shop around for the most reasonable bid - not necessarily the cheapest.
  • Ask friends and family if the contractors they refer stuck to budget.
  • Root out hidden costs written into contracts.
  • Insist that trade discounts on materials be passed on to you, or buy materials yourself.
  • Compare payment alternatives – flat vs. hourly rates, for example – and negotiate the more reasonable of the two.
  • Do part of the project yourself, such as some disassembly or prep work.  
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How to Get Hired Right Out of College

February 3, 2014 1:15 pm

With higher rates of un- or underemployment among college graduates in recent years, a national debate about the value of a college degree has gotten louder, especially as tuition continues to rise.

The slow economic recovery has hit young adults hard; in 2012, 44 percent of recent college graduates with a bachelor’s degree were underemployed or working jobs that do not require an advanced degree, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Other studies, including a recent one from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, have had similar findings.

“There’s no question that an advanced degree gives college graduates a tremendous leg up compared to those without one; those recent grads are working jobs non-college grads want – and graduates typically find good work soon enough. It’s just a matter of how much of an advantage students demand right out of college,” says Matt Stewart, an entrepreneur and spokesperson for College Works Painting, (www.collegeworks.com).

College Works Painting provides practical and life-changing business experience for college students who have shown potential for success. Interns operate their own house-painting business with hands-on guidance from mentors.

“Unemployment for our alumni is less than 4 percent; this kind of challenging yet fun student experience helps ensure a good career for college graduates right out of the gate,” says Stewart, who offers tips for what students should look for in earning professional experience while still in school.

• Know what you will actually be doing. Interns tend to be eager to learn, wide-eyed and optimistic about gaining an internship somewhere. While simply being in a company’s culture has some value, many businesses simply want students to do their lowest-level work. Grunt work, to some extent, is a fact of life in most professions, however, students probably aren’t looking to gain experience in coffee-making or cleaning. Consider an internship that gives you real responsibility and provides experiences that will definitely come in handy in your future career.

• Consider the industry recognition of a company. While college is certainly worth the investment, it is costly and you want to get all you can out of the experience. Don’t accept working for free with just any organization; think about how the name will resonate on a resume. If you can, get information on how other former interns fared at a company who would have you.

• For entrepreneurial students, real experience is crucial. If you’re an artist, athlete, musician, theater major, English student or a STEM fields student, it’s much easier to get real experience by simply doing what one loves. But for business majors and future entrepreneurs, getting experience often comes with a heavy price, including the loss of personal or family finances. Look for opportunities that provide guidance while allowing you to apply skills to real-life challenges such as budgeting, marketing, and managing employees.

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What Kind Of Home Improvement Can You Get For $1,400?

February 3, 2014 1:15 pm

In a previous report, I reviewed the high points of a recent report featuring details on the cost of home improvement projects drawn from a statistical model developed by NAHB, using data from the HUD/Census Bureau American Housing Survey.

That model indicated the median level of spending on improvements nationally is $1,400 per owner-occupied home, ranging as high as $5,000 in particular cases based on regional socio-economic factors.

So what kind of home improvements can an average consumer get for around $1,400?

A 2014 Remodeling survey of top home improvement trends and ROI, (remodeling.hw.net) says a homeowner can spend about $1,524 and recoup almost 84 percent of that cost replacing their garage door.

The report uses the following project criteria to base its cost:

  • Remove and dispose of existing 16x7-foot garage door and tracks.

  • Install new 4-section garage door on new galvanized steel tracks; reuse existing motorized opener.

  • New door is uninsulated, single-layer, embossed steel with two coats of baked-on paint, galvanized steel hinges, and nylon rollers.

  • New door covered by 10-year limited warranty.

The only lower cost project a homeowner might consider with a whopping 96.6 percent return is a steel entry door replacement - price tagged in the survey at about $1,100.

Then consider using the balance to convert your entire home to energy efficient light bulbs.

A report by the National Association of Realtors indicates that when it comes to artificial light, most contractors recommend switching burned-out bulbs to LEDs, which last longer than incandescents, consume less energy, and have come down in price — now often just $10.

The quality of LEDs has improved, the report states, and they’re dimmable and available in colors. Since the average U.S. household has more than 40 sockets for light bulbs, according to energystar.gov, that should put you just over your $1,400 budget.

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7 Hot Home Decor Trends for 2014

February 3, 2014 1:15 pm

Home decorators seem to agree that ‘bold, colorful and sensual’ best describe the home décor trends for 2014, with radiant colors, tactile interest, and individualized style statements all leading the way.


If you’re looking to rejuvenate the look of your home, consider these trending alternatives:

  • Warm colors – Ditch the neutrals and heat up your décor with yellow, orange, red, marine blue, even vibrant orchid. Start with the kitchen, paint the family room or guest bath, and brighten your rooms with art prints and accents that ‘pop.’

  • Mirrors – Get rid of boring, rectangular mirrors in favor of round or oval-framed designs that add focus and color to the living or dining room. Pay attention to size and proportion, and see your new mirrors add both interest and depth.

  • Heavy metal – Actually, all metals from gold and silver to weathered brass and rose gold are the go-to choices for home accessories in 2014, with copper as the stand-out favorite. Look for metal accents everywhere this year, from lighting and decorative pieces to indoor and outdoor sculptures and even bar stools.

  • Leggy lights – Whether standing, arching, or attached to the wall, thin, linear lights on extended arms will be lighting our rooms this year.

  • Velvets and other textures – They’re not your great-aunt’s red velvet settee, but sofas this year will sport more elegant velvets and plush, tactile textures in a wide variety of colors.

  • Vintage wonders – One-of-kind vases, art prints, kitchen tools, and more gleaned from the attic or thrift store are becoming increasingly popular. Look for the stand-out focal piece that will make people ask, “where did you find that?”

  • Mountain greenery – Casual is hip, so incorporating plants, plants, and more plants into the décor is another big trend this year. Fake is fine, but if your plants are real, make sure they stay watered and healthy.

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Word of the Day

February 3, 2014 1:15 pm

Counteroffer. An offer made in response to an earlier, unacceptable one; it terminates the original offer. 

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