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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
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Tom's Blog

Q: What factors should determine whether I decide to move or remodel?

December 27, 2013 5:12 pm

A: Your personal needs, preferences and finances are all factors. If you’ve lived in your home awhile and prefer to stay in your school district or neighborhood, improving your existing space may work best for you. If a second bathroom is what you desire, it may also be cheaper to convert existing space than to relocate to another home. According to the American Homeowner Foundation, you can expect to spend 8-10 percent of your current home’s value when you move. Ask yourself if that money could be better spent on a remodeling project instead. Chances are you’d increase your home’s value, derive more pleasure from your home than you did previously, and save yourself the time, expense and headache of a move.

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What Is a Postnup? Do You Need One?

December 26, 2013 1:06 pm

Prenups are pretty common nowadays, but what is a postnup? Unlike prenups, which are entered into before a marriage, postnuptial agreements are signed after the wedding has taken place.

Even if you're happily married, a postnup can be a good financial tool that can help smooth out money-related tensions in a relationship.

Since financial disagreements tend to cause heartache, postnups could be the key a happy marriage.

What Is a Postnup?

A postnup is a legal document that's signed by the couple after they're married. This legal instrument details the couple's marital property and what would happen to those assets if they divorced or separated.

According to NBC's "Today," money is often cited as one of the top reasons for unhappiness in a marriage. However, the process of putting together a postnup can actually alleviate some of that financial tension. This is because postnups can, for example:

  • Help determine which spouse owns which assets,
  • Provide some groundwork for how to negotiate probate issues, or
  • Specify that one spouse's student loan debts aren't joint marital debts.

It's recommended that each individual spouse seek out his or her own attorney when drafting a postnup. It's also ideal to have a "neutral" third lawyer look over the agreement.

Can a Postnup Help Your Marriage?

Postnups can potentially help save a marriage, and indeed many postnups are executed when couples are nearing their breaking point.

In fact, the mediation process of sitting down and analyzing your joint financial issues can be therapeutic. Case in point: CNN once reported on a couple who had been through several marriage counselors over their financial burdens with no avail. Then they learned about postnuptial agreements and each retained an attorney to hash out their concerns. In the end, they came up with a solid plan that both parties agreed to, and it saved their marriage.

Source: Findlaw.com 

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Financially Fit: 5 Steps to Get a Handle on Your Credit

December 26, 2013 1:06 pm

(BPT)—After countless hours spent holiday shopping, you finally finished. Now, you're faced with the credit card payments as you roll into the new year. While it may have been difficult to keep your finances - particularly your credit cards - top of mind amid the dash from store to store, those payments aren't going anywhere.

Managing your credit can seem like a daunting task—but it doesn't have to be. Even if you've blown your budget and maxed out your cards, you can still take control of your credit and become financially fit in 2014.

Here are five things you should do right now to help get your credit back on track and sustain your financial reputation all year long:

Review your credit report. Start with taking a comprehensive look at what's there, good and bad. Make sure you thoroughly review your report for any errors or mistakes, especially after the holidays. Tools like AnnualCreditReport.com let you check your report annually for free. It's also a good idea to check your credit score to see if it's dropped and to give you a basis for comparison moving forward. Resources such as Credit.com allow you to easily pull your score.

Know what you owe. Tally up those balances and determine your debt to credit ratio - that is, the amount of money you owe on your cards versus your available credit, which accounts for approximately 30 percent of your credit score. If you're using more than half of your available credit, this will likely lower your credit score. This means that if you have three credit cards with a combined limit of $10,000, your total balance should be below $5,000.

Be sure to pay your bills on time and at more than the monthly minimum. Sure, it's intuitive, but simply paying your bills on time accounts for about 35 percent of your credit score. Start with your holiday shopping bills and make sure that at least the minimum required balance is paid - even if you can't pay them in full.- Also, pay more than the minimum payment every month to pay down your balance faster and decrease interest charges.

Pay off the card with the highest interest rate first. These are the cards that are costing you the most, so paying them off ahead of a card with a lower interest rate will save you more money in the long run.

Keep your cards open. Unless you have a compelling reason to close a card - for instance, if you're paying a large fee on it - it's best not to close credit cards, especially ones where you have a long positive payment history. When closing a card, not only can your debt to credit ratio increase, you also end up losing the history associated with the card and change the mix of your credit, which could negatively impact your score. And, in the future, do your research before signing on that dotted line. It may have been tempting to open up a retail store credit card to save 15 percent on a recent purchase, but those savings are now ultimately going to end up on your billing statement as interest. Instead, look for a card that works with your lifestyle. Review your options and find a card with a great rewards program and the lowest interest rate possible.

Source: BetterMoneyHabits.com 

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Homeowners Consumer Center Updates 'Chinese Drywall' Warnings

December 23, 2013 6:54 pm

A recent visit to the Homeowners Consumer Center (homeownersconsumercenter.com) website revealed a recent reminder for homeowners about the continuing issues related to "Chinese drywall."

Before you purchase a home in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Southeast Texas, or Virginia, the Center is advising to make sure you have the home checked for toxic Chinese drywall by a qualified building inspector. The time frame of concern should be if the house was built or renovated between 2000 and early 2009.

The Center's pointed advice is: "Do Not Purchase a Home That Is Known to Have Toxic Chinese Drywall."

Homeowners who suspect they might have the toxic Chinese drywall in their home should check the copper coils on their air conditioning units. If the AC copper coils have turned black, or a grayish black they should contact the Chinese Drywall Complaint Center at 866-714-6466.

Homeowners, building owners, or occupants in the US Southeast may have noticed corroded, or black electrical wiring in their walls in properties built, or remodeled since 2000. Many homeowners who have the toxic Chinese drywall in their home might have copper ground wires in the electrical receptacles that have turned black in the US South.

Homeowners who suspect their home may have the Chinese drywall can remove electrical receptacle plates to see if the copper ground wire has turned black. If a homeowner in any state sees this, they should also call the Chinese Drywall Complaint Center immediately.

According to the Center, Toxic Chinese Drywall Symptoms also include:

  • Oven, or stove elements, or refrigerator coils may have failed in the homes, or condominiums a number of times.
  • The Homeowners Consumer Center has also discovered that computer, TV sets, radios, DVD players, smoke detectors microwave information display panels may have failed in homes, where the toxic Chinese drywall is present.
  • Light bulbs in homes with toxic Chinese drywall may burn out at a much faster rate than specified by the manufacturer.

The Homeowners Consumer Center is part of AmericasWatchdog, a national consumer advocacy group focused on consumer protection and corporate fair play. To learn more, visit: AmericasWatchdog.com 

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Looking for a New You in the New Year?

December 23, 2013 6:54 pm

In January, the job search websites go crazy as people start the new year resolved to find work that’s more satisfying.

“While thousands of people are dealing with the tragedy of unemployment, many others are looking for jobs that are more fulfilling than the ones they have,” says attorney and author Pamela Samuels Young.

In January 2013, job search website Indeed.com had a record 17.3 million unique visitors—a 24-percent jump, and January 2014 will likely see a similar increase. Many of those job seekers won’t be looking for just a job, but one they’re passionate about.

“It’s great if your day job is your passion,” Young says. “But if it’s not, you don’t have to give up a position that pays the bills in order to pursue your dream. You can do both.”

Since 2006, Young has pursued her passion—writing legal thrillers—as well as her day job as Managing Counsel for Labor and Employment Law for Toyota Motors Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

“I enjoy practicing law and I didn’t want to leave Toyota, nor could I afford to. But I also had a burning desire to write mystery novels,” says Young. She recently released her sixth novel, “Anybody’s Daughter.” Described by Kirkus Reviews as a "fast-paced, well-written thriller that's grounded in social issues."

“I’ve always believed that if you have a dream, you should formulate a plan and make it happen. So that’s what I did.”

Young’s plan included rising at 4 a.m. to squeeze in some writing time before heading off to work, and turning weekends and vacation time into creation time.

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’ve published six novels, while still practicing law,” she says. “The hard work and commitment have definitely paid off.”

Young offers these tips for busy professionals itching to pursue their own passions.

• Schedule time to devote to your passion. “On my calendar, you’ll find a few hours or full days blocked out as ‘Writing Time’ every week,” Young says. “You have to schedule time for your passion. If you don’t, the day-to-day demands of life will get in the way.”

• Put “passion” time ahead of “pleasure” time.  If you’re working full-time and pursuing another “job,” you won’t have a lot of free time. “You’ll have to cut back on watching television, socializing with friends and even family time,” Young says. “Explain your goals to friends and family. People who have your best interests at heart will support you. “But do take an occasional break to relax.  Otherwise, you’ll burn yourself out by working around the clock.”

• Learn from others. Surround yourself with people who share your passion. Sign up for newsletters, read books and join communities of other like-minded people, Young says. “There are tons of professional groups whose sole function is to help their members develop their creative talents and business goals.” Young is a diehard member of Sisters in Crime, an organization that promotes the advancement of women mystery writers. “Not only will you get energy and inspiration from networking with others, you’ll grow.”

• Don’t put your day job on the backburner. Young says it’s important to give your day job 100 percent. “I never want my co-workers to think I’m phoning it in because I also have a writing career.” That attitude has paid off. “I have a strong support system at work. My co-workers read my books, critique my manuscripts and come to book signings.” Many of the people Young thanks in the Acknowledgements in each of her books are co-workers. Her fourth novel is even dedicated to another Toyota attorney.

“Don’t just dream about pursuing your passion,” Young says, “make it happen!”

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Your Will: The Overlooked Bucket-list Item

December 23, 2013 6:54 pm

Of the trendy terms to come around in the past decade, “bucket list” remains among the most useful, says retirement planning expert Jeff Gorton.

“As a neologism, I hope it endures because it reminds us of how precious our time is – and that it’s important to plan wisely,” says Gorton, a veteran Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner™, and head of Gorton Financial Group (www.gortonfinancialgroup.com).

“Unfortunately, after some have listed their items and even checked a few things off, they forget about one important item that really counts after they’ve ‘kicked the bucket’ – their will.”

Only about 40 percent of adults in America have a will, which is probably due to people not wanting to be reminded of their own mortality and that life will go on without them, he says.

“But what’s the alternative? If you die without one, the state decides what becomes of your property, without regard to your priorities,” says Gorton, who also advocates his clients make use of a written income plan (WIP), a living document that helps organize financial priorities. “Why not enjoy the fact that a will is an instrument of power? You get to decide who gets what.”

Since so many adults don’t have a will, many don’t understand how they work. Gorton breaks down wills into four basic parts:

• Executors — Most wills begin by naming an executor, the person responsible for carrying out the wishes outlined in the will. Duties include assessing the value of the estate, gathering the assets, paying inheritance tax and other debts if necessary, and distributing assets among beneficiaries. It is recommended that you name at least two executors in case your first choice is unable to fulfill the obligation.

• Guardians — A will allows you to designate a guardian for your minor children. Whomever you appoint, you will want to make sure beforehand that the individual is able and willing to assume the responsibility. For many people, this is the most important part of a will since, if you die without naming a guardian, the court will decide who takes care of your children.

• Gifts — This section enables you to identify people or organizations to whom you wish to give gifts of money or specific possessions, such as family heirlooms or a car. You can also specify conditional gifts, such as a sum of money to a young daughter, but only when she reaches a certain age.

• Estate — Your estate encompasses everything you own, including real property, financial investments, cash and personal possessions. Once you have identified specific gifts you would like to distribute, you can apportion the rest of your estate 
in equal shares among your heirs, or you can split it into percentages. For example, you may decide to give 45 percent each to two children and the remaining 10 percent to a sibling.

“You’re not legally required to have a professional write a will for you, but I highly recommend you get certified help because these documents are often contested by people who are unhappy with the decisions you made,” he says. “After working a lifetime for your assets, you deserve to have them go where you want after you’re gone, and your family will be grateful to you for not leaving them with the headache of trying to sort out your estate.”

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Q: What Is a Bridge Loan?

December 23, 2013 6:54 pm

A: It is a short-term bank loan of the equity in the home you are selling. You may take out a bridge loan, or interim financing, to help with a knotty situation: closing on the home you are buying before you close on the property you are selling. This loan basically enables you to have a place to live after the closing on the old home.

The key to a bridge loan is having a qualified buyer and a signed contract. Usually, the lender issuing the mortgage loan on the new home will write the interim financing as a personal note due at settlement on the property being sold.

If, however, there is no buyer for the property you have up for sale, most lenders will place a lien on the property, thereby making that bridge loan a kind of second mortgage.

Things to consider: interest rates are high, points are high, and there are costs and fees involved on bridge loans. It may be cheaper to borrow from your 401(K). Actually, any secured loan is acceptable to lenders for the down payment. So if you have stocks or bonds or an insurance policy, you can borrow against them as well.

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Stop Bickering and Stay Connected Through the Holidays

December 20, 2013 6:27 pm

Do you and your partner clash more than usual during December? If so, you’re not alone. Some couples find Christmas and Hanukkah to be festive minefields that explode into arguments sometimes followed by icy silences. Paul resents Sandra for spending too much on the kids, again. Chloe is upset over Jeff’s insistence on spending Christmas Day at his mother’s—once more. Ann doesn’t understand why David finds the holidays hard. She gets impatient when he is sullen and withdrawn during times that she wants to celebrate and enjoy with others.

It’s true that the holidays can be tough on couples. Yet it’s important to note that most holiday issues are rarely just about the holidays. They tend to be symptoms—signs of unmet needs or unresolved relationship issues. And once the two of you begin to realize the arguments and bad feelings are signaling deeper misfires between you, the sooner you can start to address them together.

Well-researched negative patterns of communication and ensuing roles that partners take are a large focus in our new book, Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy For Dummies®. This book—written for couples and packed with rarely revealed in-session counseling examples and activities—helps readers identify their own unique patterns of arguing and disconnection…patterns that can be exacerbated by the holidays.

One reason couples can feel blindsided by holiday blow-ups is that this time of year is “supposed” to be all colored lights, childlike wonder, love, and gratitude. This is, of course, setting yourselves up for failure. Depending on your holiday expectations, they can bring a unique set of pressures—forced family togetherness (with those you’d rather not be together with), ramped-up financial pressures, and jam-packed schedules just to name a few (fill in your own).


These pressures can bring predictable conflict patterns roaring to the surface. For example:

Holiday Trap 1: Extended Family Drama. There are many differences in people’s needs and expectations: Who will we see? How long will we stay? How will we give “fair” time to both families? These differences trigger couple conflict patterns. Plus, old relationship patterns refine with age, so dysfunctional ties with siblings or parents can add to the turmoil.

Holiday Trap 2: Finance Friction. Couples can have different values about money. For one party, an expensive gift is a sign of affection and sacrifice, a way of communicating value. But if the other party sees money as a form of security, such a gift is imprudent and wasteful, seen not as a token of love but as a financial threat.

Holiday Trap 3: Business. Between work parties, social gatherings, school events, family visits, and shopping demands, the holidays can create a frenetic pace. It can be tough to prioritize events and manage time. Couples need to coordinate and work together. In a relationship that may already be time-starved, competing needs can be stressful.

Partners have different needs and expectations. Often one person feels more responsible for organizing events and plans. The pressure falls disproportionately on them, and the inevitable stresses play themselves out between the couple. Partners can slip into predictable roles that heighten the tension when a sense of fairness is lost. Little things become symbolic, like how Susan seems to be with her sister 24/7 while Chris can’t get her to answer his calls. This emotional tension can conflict with the expectations of holiday joy.

To help ease the stress, try these tips:

  • Be real about what you feel. This will allow you to head off recurring holiday issues. Most people can predict their partner’s problematic behaviors based on past experience. This year, instead of biting your tongue and then blowing up after the fact, speak up. Not only can you prevent the issue from occurring, you’re taking a step toward a healthier relationship.
  • Identify your limits. Watch out for overscheduling. Make choices together about where to invest your energy and your time. Figure out which events mean the most and let some things go. Otherwise you are sure to spend all of your time stressed, resentful, and snapping at your spouse.
  • How you choose to spend your time really matters. It sends a very clear signal about where they fall in the grand scheme of things. If your entire holiday season revolves around your family, your friends, and your coworkers, of course your partner will feel that they are your last priority!
  • Look for rituals that have lost their meaning and eliminate them. Ask yourself, Where are we just going through the motions? Maybe you’ve always driven partway across the country for the holidays because that’s where your partner’s parents live. But if you’re approaching the visit with a sense of dread rather than anticipation and joy, why not change it? You can always visit them mid-summer instead.

    The difference between ritual and routine is the meaning you give to the activities. Couples go to ridiculous lengths and spend large amounts of money on events and activities that they don’t really want to do. But if they can sit down and discuss the subject with an open mind, they’re often shocked to find that their partner doesn’t really enjoy the ritual anymore either! It has become a routine, or worse, a dreaded obligation.
  • Make plans to do something together as a couple—just the two of you. There are more than enough mandatory events around the holidays. If at all possible, plan an outing—just the two of you—to show each other that your couple time is a priority. Take a short road trip to a special out-of-town restaurant that you both love, or go to the best neighborhoods around for looking at Christmas lights.

    In fact, if you have a great time, you might make this an annual holiday ritual. Strong relationships thrive on rituals—as long as they remain meaningful.
     
  • Recognize the warning signs. Emotional reactions often serve as an alarm to important issues in relationships. Watch out for warning signs like these in yourself or your partner:

• increased “volume” in conversations—i.e., more intensity than normal, little conversations become big ones

• doing more for your partner in hopes that it will change their experience

• pulling away and not sharing issues you have concerns about

• keeping your distance physically and emotionally

• pushing or prodding your partner to do something after you have already asked them

• not asking directly for your needs or not naming your expectations for fear of your partner’s response

  • Failing to take heed by ignoring or minimizing signals of relationship distress will increase the likelihood of having to face more significant problems in the future.
  • Being aware of your emotions and sharing them initially can keep you on track—like an emotional GPS. Small corrections may be needed to navigate the increased expectations and demands couples face at this time of year. Taking the initiative to stop a destructive pattern before it takes hold—to invite a partner to share previously buried emotions in a way that’s safe—is a true act of love.
  • Look for chances to make an emotional connection. Letting your partner know that you notice them during the holidays can go a long way toward averting negativity and helping you stay connected.  
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Word of the Day

December 20, 2013 6:27 pm

Lessor. Someone who rents to another party through a lease; the landlord.

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Q: What Factors Should Determine whether I Decide to Move or Remodel?

December 20, 2013 6:27 pm

A: Your personal needs, preferences and finances are all factors. If you’ve lived in your home awhile and prefer to stay in your school district or neighborhood, improving your existing space may work best for you. If a second bathroom is what you desire, it may also be cheaper to convert existing space than to relocate to another home. According to the American Homeowner Foundation, you can expect to spend 8-10% of your current home’s value when you move. Ask yourself if that money could be better spent on a remodeling project instead. Chances are you’d increase your home’s value, derive more pleasure from your home than you did previously, and save yourself the time, expense and headache of a move.

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