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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
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email: tom@tomskiffington.com
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Tom's Blog

Q: What Should I Know about Low Down Payment Loans?

December 6, 2013 9:36 pm

A: Such loans are offered by government agencies and private lenders, including nonprofit groups and employers. In fact, there are government programs at both the federal and state level to help cash-strapped buyers. Under many state housing agency guidelines, borrowers must usually be first-time homebuyers or have a limited family income to qualify for low down payment loans.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers several programs through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that require down payments of 3 to 5 percent.

Several times over the past few years, President Bush has proposed a “zero down mortgage” insurance program for first-time homebuyers with good credit. First proposed for his 2005 budget, it was promoted as a tool that would qualify about 150,000 FHA-insured borrowers in the first year alone. The 2006 budget indicated 200,000 potential borrowers would be helped. The plans, which required congressional approval, never got off the ground.

Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest supplier of home mortgage funds, has a popular program for low- and moderate-income homebuyers called Community Home Buyers. Under the program, borrowers may buy with just 3 percent down—with a 2 percent gift from family members, a government program, or nonprofit group—and obtain private mortgage insurance to protect the lender against default. The program is available through participating mortgage lenders and requires that borrowers take a home-buyer education course.

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Kitchen Fires Spike during Holidays: Keep Your Family Safe

December 5, 2013 9:27 pm

(BPT)—During the holidays, more Americans spend time in the kitchen preparing meals for family and friends. That additional kitchen time also means added risk of home fires. In fact, according to claims data from Liberty Mutual Insurance, three times more fires occur on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day than on any other days of the year, yet many Americans aren't practicing basic kitchen safety.

More than half of Americans plan to cook for family and friends during the holidays, with 42 percent of those cooking for groups of 11 or more, based on findings from a new survey from Liberty Mutual Insurance. However, the majority of people admit to engaging in dangerous cooking behaviors which increase the likelihood of kitchen fires, including leaving cooking food unattended to watch television, talk or text on the phone, or do laundry. Even more concerning is that nearly one-third admit to disabling a smoke alarm while cooking.

These dangerous cooking behaviors not only risk the safety of your loved ones, but can result in significant economic repercussions. In 2011, cooking was involved in an estimated 156,300 home structure fires, and caused 470 deaths, 5,390 injuries and $1 billion in direct property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

"The hectic nature of entertaining during the holidays makes it easy to overlook even the most basic cooking safety rules," says Tom Harned, fire safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance and Chief Fire Officer in Gilbertsville, Pa.

Harned encourages all home chefs to follow these simple fire-safety tips:

1. Stay in the kitchen. Don't leave the kitchen when you are frying, broiling or grilling. If you leave the kitchen even for a brief time, be sure to turn off all the burners on the stovetop. Don't use the stovetop or oven if you are tired or have consumed alcohol or drugs.

2. Set a timer as a reminder that the range or stove is on. Ranges were involved in three of every five home cooking fires in 2011, with ovens accounting for 16 percent of home fires, according to the NFPA. Check your food frequently, and use a timer to remind yourself that the range, stove or oven is on. If you tend to do a lot of cooking, invest in a second or third timer. They're an inexpensive way to stay safe while ensuring that your holiday dishes do not overcook.

3. Keep anything that can catch on fire away from the stovetop. Pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels and other flammable objects should be kept a safe distance from the stovetop.

4. Keep a lid or cookie sheet, baking soda and oven mitt nearby when you're cooking to use in case of a grease fire. Fire extinguisher use without training can cause a grease fire to spread and increase the chances of serious injury.

5. Ensure your smoke alarm is fully functional before the holiday cooking season begins. Install a photoelectric smoke alarm (or one having a hush button feature) that is at least 10 feet away from your kitchen and use the test button to check it each month. Replace the battery at least once per year and never disable a smoke alarm.

"If you're considering disabling a smoke alarm, think about this: almost two-thirds of home fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms," says Harned. "In addition to following basic safety rules in the kitchen this holiday season, everyone should have a home fire escape plan with at least two ways out of every room. Practice at least twice a year to ensure the safety of everyone in your home all year long."

Source: www.LibertyMutual.com/holidaycooking.

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Forget about the Man Cave, How about a Home Recording Studio?

December 5, 2013 9:27 pm

I have explored every sort of feature, fixture and specialty room one could want in a practical home. But it appears the latest rage for amatuer and professional musicians is to establish their own home recording studio space - but how does one begin the task?

The latest update of Jeff Towne’s primer on setting up a small recording studio (transom.org) notes that one doesn’t need a perfectly-tuned space in order to make decent sound mixes.

Towne says place monitor speakers so that the two monitors and the spot where you’ll sit make an equal-sided triangle, and position them at about ear-level when you’re in your working position.

Keep a clear path between your ears and the speakers (it’s tricky to keep computer screens out of the way, but it’s crucial that you do) and try to soften or break up any hard, flat surfaces between you and the speaker (like your desktop), which could create interference from sonic reflections.

Don’t get the speakers too close to a wall, or too far into a corner; the bass response will be affected.

If you’re having problems with echo, or a resonance problem that sounds like a ringing or unnatural build-up of certain sounds when you’re listening, you may need to do some treatment of your room.

Towne says skip the cardboard egg-cartons on the wall, they don’t really do much of anything, but some strategically placed acoustical foam might. Even without investing in a full-on studio treatment, just getting some soft materials on your walls, like drapes or other heavy fabrics, will help a lot.

If you can break up plain flat surfaces, especially behind your mix position, you’ll reduce many problems. Professional studios use specially built diffusers for that, but if you can place a bookshelf or some other irregular surface that will scatter audio reflections, it will help.

Check out the full article for lots more info on setting up your home recording studio at http://transom.org/?p=23904.

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Should You Ban Facebook at Work?

December 5, 2013 9:27 pm

Facebook use in the workplace is a mind-boggling issue for employers. On one hand, employers don't want to come across as controlling "Big Brothers" who don't trust employees to get their work done. But on the other hand, well, your employees may not be getting their work done.

But from a productivity standpoint, should you ban Facebook at work? And would doing so raise any legal concerns?

Facebook Use at Work

Just how much time are employees spending on Facebook at work? In Oklahoma, state employees (using the state's computer network) made more than 2 million visits to Facebook in a three-month span, according to Oklahoma's Cyber Command Security Operations Center as reported by United Press International.

Though the finding isn't representative on a national scale, it signals a growing trend of employees frittering away a fair amount of time at work on social media. In response, many companies have banned Facebook at work.

If you decide to jump on the corporate bandwagon and implement a Facebook ban, remember that your social media policy can't be too restrictive. It's crucial that your Facebook ban doesn't unlawfully interfere with your employees' free speech rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The actual process of blocking access to Facebook from work computers is pretty straightforward. It merely requires updating your "Approved Sites" Internet settings, as Demand Media explains.

Despite the simplicity of setting up a Facebook ban, employers should give pause to consider whether a ban is even necessary.

A Potential Non-Issue

In a way, this whole "should you ban Facebook" debate may be a solution looking for a problem. According to a study conducted by the National University of Singapore, "cyberloafing," or surfing the Web at work, can actually increase employee productivity.

In the study, the Web-surfing group was not only more productive but also reported less mental exhaustion and a higher level of engagement in their work, compared to those who were given breaks but were prohibited from surfing the Web.

Two other recent studies -- one by the start-up "Big Data" firm Evolv and the other by a Warwick Business School professor -- also found that social networking at work appeared to boost both productivity and retention, reports Forbes.

So before you go willy-nilly with a new Facebook policy, carefully examine your employees' actual productivity numbers. If their numbers are good, your "Facebook ban" idea may actually be a solution looking for a productivity problem that simply isn't there.

Source: FindLaw

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Word of the Day

December 5, 2013 9:27 pm

Private mortgage insurance (PMI). Required by most lenders for conventional loans with a down payment of less than 20 percent. Insurance is paid by the borrower and guarantees the lender will not lose money if the borrower defaults.

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Q: Can I Deduct Improvements Made to My Home?

December 5, 2013 9:27 pm

A: Yes, but only after you have sold it because improvements add to the basis of your home. Your gain is defined as your home’s selling price, minus deductible closing costs, minus your basis. The basis is the original purchase price of the home, plus improvements, less any depreciation.

The IRS defines improvements as those items that “add to the value of your home, prolong its useful life, or adapt it to new uses” – such as putting in new plumbing or wiring or adding another bathroom.

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5 Tech Toys You Can Find at the Dollar Store

December 4, 2013 11:21 pm

It’s easy to break your budget at holiday time. But blogger Marc Saltzman, whose Digital Crave seeks out bargains for stingy shoppers, has discovered a handful of tech toys regularly found and sold way below retail at dollar stores including Dollar Tree, Dollar King, Family Dollar, National Dollar and others.

Check your local store for these techie bargains that are worth putting under your tree:
 

  • LED book light - This clamp-on, a steal for a buck, does the same thing as the $20 version at your local book store, illuminating a book for reading in low-light. Available at Dollar Tree locations, the slender, silver book light attaches to a soft- or hardcover books. Includes three AG13 watch batteries.
  • Retractable Mouse – If you need a spare computer mouse, look for a retractable USB Mouse from Tech-1, available in white or black for less than two bucks. Plugs into an available USB port on your PC or Mac – no drivers needed – and you can pull on the cord to give yourself as much space as you need. It’s not wireless, but this small and affordable accessory could be an invaluable travel companion.
  • Maplock GPS anti-theft device – If you have a standalone GPS navigation device, you know it can attract thieves. Instead of spending up to $30 elsewhere, you can pick up the Maplock for a couple of dollars. It clamps onto your GPS, locks it down and tethers it to your steering wheel via a security cable. Be sure to buy the correct Maplock to fit your specific GPS model.
  • Double headphone adapter – If you’re hitting the road for the holidays, siblings might want to listen to the same music, movie or game in the backseat – without disturbing you. Whether using a smartphone, portable media player, tablet, laptop or gaming system, they can split the enjoyment with the HRS-Global Double Adaptor ($1). On one end is a male 3.5mm jack to snap into your device. On the other end are two female ports to plug in earbuds or headphones.
  • Tilt Top Calculator (Studio) – A solar-powered Tilt Top Calculator from Studio ($1.50), has an easy to read, adjustable display. Scientific calculators were also offered at some dollar stores.
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Is Your Home Properly Winterized for Your Pets?

December 4, 2013 11:21 pm

With autumn quickly giving way to the cold and inclement weather of winter, I want to take a moment to make sure our four-legged friends have a good winter, too. A recent post from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT - apdt.com) had a lot of good information for homeowners about wintering pets.

According to the APDT post, puppies, senior dogs and dogs with certain disease conditions (such as thyroid conditions) are more susceptible to cold temperatures. Remember - temperature related illnesses require immediate removal to a warm, dry environment and medical attention by your veterinarian.

Hypothermia can result from extended exposure to cold and is a life-threatening condition. Watch your dog for signs of shivering, shallow breathing, weak pulse or lethargy.

Frostbite is a temperature related tissue injury and most commonly occurs on ears, tails, scrotum or feet. Signs include discolored skin (red, pale, or grayish) swelling, or blisters. Check your pet often for signs of frostbite which may be hidden beneath fur.

Special Considerations for Outdoor Dogs

The APDT says you should bring your dogs inside for the winter if at all possible. If bringing your dogs inside for the season is not possible your dogs must have warm, windproof shelter - preferably heated.

Dry, clean bedding is essential to keeping warm and straw or bedding needs replenished all winter season long.

Water & food can easily freeze. Use heated bowls to prevent freezing and make sure that the electrical cords are out of reach of your pets.

Outdoor dogs will burn more calories (up to 30%) and need extra food. Make sure that you are feeding additional rations during cold temperature.

The Humane Society of the United States also weighed in on winterizing for pets saying if pets cannot come indoors, make sure they are protected by a dry, draft-free enclosure large enough to allow them to sit and lie down, but small enough to hold in the pet’s body heat.

Raise the floor a few inches off the ground and cover it with cedar shavings or straw. Turn the enclosure away from the wind and cover the doorway with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.

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Word of the Day

December 4, 2013 11:21 pm

Judgment. Court decree stating that one person is indebted to another. Also specifies the amount of the debt.

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Q: Can I Split My Mortgage in Two and Pay Biweekly?

December 4, 2013 11:21 pm

A: The biweekly mortgage has become increasingly popular as more people favor paying off their home loan early and reducing interest charges.

Monthly payments on these loans are split in half, payable every two weeks.

Because there are 52 weeks in a year, you actually have 26 half-payments, or the equivalent of 13 monthly payments per year instead of 12.

Under the biweekly payment plan, a homeowner can save tens of thousands of dollars in interest and pay off their loan balance in less than 30 years.

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