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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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Perkasie, PA 18944
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Tom's Blog

Q: Do I Have to Disclose a Parent's Gift to the Lender?

November 22, 2013 6:39 pm

A: Lenders prefer that you do.  But relax, you are not penalized in any way for receiving parental help.  An estimated one-third of all first-time buyers purchase homes with a loan or a money gift from parents.

Lenders also will approve gifts, with the proper documentation, from relatives, friends, an employer, church, municipality, or nonprofit organization – although stricter restrictions may apply for gifts from friends and relatives other than parents.

Expect the lender to ask you to present a gift letter stating that a repayment of the "gift" is not expected. The amount of the gift and the date it was given should be clearly stated in the letter, along with the donor's name, address, telephone number and relationship to you.

The lender also can ask to see a few bank statements to ascertain if the money was recently placed into the account.

A gift may be more acceptable than an actual parental loan, particularly if the loan must be paid back immediately, which could contribute to an increase in your monthly debt – something a lender may frown on.

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Stocks: Ten Trading Survival Techniques

November 22, 2013 6:39 pm

In our sluggishly recovering economy, there are many threats to your bank account: job loss, underemployment, falling incomes, rising costs, and more. Wouldn’t it be great if you could earn some extra cash to counteract this slow financial bleed…and maybe even sock away some money for the future? If you enter the world of stock trading, you can.

But wait, you think. Isn’t stock trading mostly for Armani-suited Wall Streeters who spend all day shouting “Buy! Sell! Buy! Sell!” into their BlackBerries? Real people like me don’t actually make money by taking the things Jim Cramer rants about on CNBC seriously…do they?

Actually, they do. You don’t have to be a Wall Street hotshot to use stock trading as a responsible and lucrative way to increase your income, say authors Michael Griffis and Lita Epstein.

“It’s true that trading used to be the domain of institutional and corporate representatives, but now technical advances have leveled the playing field, making trading much more accessible to individuals,” says Griffis, coauthor along with Epstein of Trading For Dummies®, 3rd Edition. “If you’re disciplined and are willing to learn, you can develop a winning trading strategy.”

That—helping individuals learn how to competently and confidently trade—is the purpose of Trading For Dummies®, 3rd Edition. In this accessible volume, Griffis and Epstein explain the how-tos of trading in plain English, covering topics including stock charts, trading techniques, analyzing trends and indicators, and much more.

“Before you get started, it’s important to understand the differences between trading and investing, which many people incorrectly assume are the same thing,” comments Epstein. “Investors buy stocks with the goal of building a balanced portfolio and hold them for a long time—often decades. Traders, on the other hand, hold stocks for as little as a few minutes or as long as several months—more rarely, a year or more. In other words, trading tends to be much more fast-paced and involved than investing.”

“In large part because of its dynamic nature, trading is not a risk-free activity,” notes Griffis. “Although some losses are inevitable, you’ll want to minimize their frequency and severity so that you can stay solvent to trade another day. Our book will give you the principles and advice you need in order to do that.”

Here, Griffis and Epstein review ten of the top trading survival techniques to keep in mind as you enter the world of trading:

Build your trading tool chest. Before you buy anything, you need to be certain that you have the right mix of trading software, hardware, and Internet access to be successful. You need the right tools to identify trading candidates; display and interpret charts; research trading opportunities; screen stocks for technical or fundamental constraints; and monitor and analyze your portfolio, open positions, market indexes, sectors, and trading statistics.

“In summary, the proper tools are the core of any good trader’s business,” says Epstein. “They’re critical to finding the right trades and then monitoring those positions after you’ve found and entered them. Without the right tools, your chances of success drop dramatically, so don’t scrimp in this area!”

Choose and use your favorite tools wisely. As you begin sorting out your software and hardware and making contact with other traders, you’ll probably find out about the hundreds of tools and charts that are out there on the market.

“You don’t need to learn and use them all,” assures Griffis. “To avoid driving yourself crazy, pick the top two or three trading tools that make sense to you and fit your trading style. Take your time getting to know how they work and how best to interpret the information they generate. Use them to build the types of charts that match your trading style and don’t worry about learning all the new gadgets. If your tools are working and you’re making a good profit, don’t rush to add the newest tool innovation.”

Use both technical and fundamental analyses. You may have heard that all traders use technical analysis and believe that fundamental analysis is a waste of time. Don’t believe it. Although technical analysis is crucial to finding the right entry and exit points, fundamental analysis improves your ability to make the right stock choices, given market and economic conditions.

“You’ll find as a trader that knowing the current state of the economy and the state of the market is critical,” comments Epstein. “Using a combination of fundamental and technical analyses, your chances of identifying bull and bear markets and finding phases of transition and consolidation improve dramatically. Your best trading opportunities are at the beginning of these phases of change, so be sure that you understand the six phases of the market—bullish transition, bull market, bullish pullback, bearish transition, bear market, and bearish pullback—and know which sectors offer you the best trading opportunities within each of those phases.”

Count on the averages to make your moves. You may think that using data from averages to find the right time to enter or exit a position is counterintuitive, but moving averages can be powerful trading indicators. Moving averages actually smooth out the data for you visually and help you identify any trends. Although they can’t predict the future, they nevertheless help you understand the past so you can more effectively extrapolate what may happen to a stock in the future.

“Be sure to find out how to use moving averages and what they mean,” instructs Griffis. “After you understand them and what goes into them, you can manipulate moving averages to your advantage and to coincide with your trading style.”

Develop and manage your trading system. You need to have a road map that helps you find buy and sell signals for your trades. A trading system is such a map. It’s developed using a collection of tools created from technical and fundamental analyses, all woven together to let you know when it’s time to enter or exit positions.

“You can buy trading systems off the shelf, but these systems are available to thousands of others who ultimately will end up with the same buy and sell signals,” points out Epstein.

“To be able to trade outside the pack, you need to develop your own trading system, using your own favorite tools. Although you can use tools provided in off-the-shelf software packages, you want to develop and adapt a trading system that fits uniquely with your personality and trading objectives.”

Know your costs. Trading isn’t cheap. Even if you’re using stop or limit orders, you’ll rarely end up executing trades at the exact entry or exit prices you plan. Some slippage (or the difference between the quoted price and the actual price for the security) is bound to occur, so in addition to carefully monitoring your commission costs and transaction fees, you’ll also need to keep an eye on slippage costs.

“In addition, don’t forget to consider the tax man,” warns Griffis. “If you’re trading stocks that you hold for less than a year, any profits you make are taxed as current income instead of at lower capital-gains tax rates.”

Have an exit strategy. Knowing when to take your profits and get out and when to accept your losses and close a position before it becomes even more damaging can be among the hardest lessons any trader must learn. All too often you’re enticed by the win and want to ride it to the absolute top.

“Wise traders plan their exit points at the top and bottom of each position long before they ever enter that position,” Epstein shares. “And more important, they stick to their plan. Getting caught up in the emotions of a winning trade is easy, but don’t forget you’re operating a business. Take your profits when you reach your goal and get out so you don’t risk turning a winning position into a loss. And when you do make a mistake, own up to it quickly, take your hit, and get out of the position. If the stock recovers, you can always reenter the position at a later time.”

Watch for signals; don’t anticipate them. After you make a decision to buy a stock, you may find that you’re impatient to actually get into that position. You start watching the charts and waiting for the right signal to buy. Often, you’ll see charts move close to your planned signal but not actually reach it.

“Be patient,” Griffis instructs. “Wait for the signal you’ve designated in your plan. Don’t anticipate any moves, even if the stock price is getting close to that point on your charts. You may miss the perfect entry point, but you’ll be less likely to make the fatal mistake of entering a position before the signal is triggered, only to see your stock reverse course and be forced to take a loss.”

Buy on strength; sell on weakness. Buy on strength and sell on weakness is a mantra you’ve probably heard frequently from investment and trading gurus. The reason for its popularity is a good one: It works! And it needs to become your trading way of life.

“When you see a stock showing strength and heading into an uptrend, it’s time to buy,” says Epstein. “When you see a stock falling and showing signs of entering a weakening period, it’s time to sell. If a weak stock takes a turn for the better, you can always reenter the position.”

Keep a trading journal and review it often. The best way to improve your trading skills is to keep track of what works and what doesn’t. After each trade, take the time to write down the details of what went right and/or wrong with that trade, and why. You can improve only what you measure, so measure everything and put it in a trading journal.

“Don’t forget to review the contents of your journal every week,” instructs Griffis. “You may find that reviewing your successes is enjoyable but reviewing your failures is difficult. Failure, however, sometimes is the best teacher. Try figuring out why your failed trades didn’t work and what you could’ve done to improve your results. And, of course, don’t ignore your successes. After all, you need to know what works and why so that you can incorporate those winning strategies more consistently into your trading system.”

“How successful you become as a trader depends on how well you use your tools, gather the necessary information, and interpret the data you have,” concludes Epstein. “While these survival techniques aren’t a complete guide by any means, they will help you to make smart decisions while avoiding potential pitfalls.”

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Sunshine State Storm, Timeshare Scams Can Victimize Anyone

November 22, 2013 6:39 pm

You can learn a lot from various consumer protection agencies and other government agencies in virtually every state in the nation. In many cases, situations being reported in one state are actually happening across numerous states and even the entire country.

With the potential for serious storms and hurricanes threatening homeowners and properties this fall and winter, we picked up on this warning from Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).

That agency recently noted that a frequent problem after a disaster is “fly-by-night” contractors who take deposits before starting work or final payment before finishing. The agency offers some good advice that is applicable far beyond Florida, however.

When seeking a post-storm contractor, the agency advises property owners to be cautious of repair businesses or individuals who:

  • Solicit door-to-door,
  • Arrive in unmarked vehicles,
  • Have a post office box or temporary address,
  • Claim they are from another county or state and are in the area solely to help disaster victims,
  • Or claim that they were doing work in the area and noticed that your home needed repairs.

The agency advises that if your home is in need of repair, you should get at least three itemized estimates and check each contractor’s address, license, and complaint history; never agree to a cash-only deal; and ask for a written estimate and inspect the terms carefully before signing and agreeing to any offer.

Honest contractors earn the majority of their business through referrals from satisfied customers, they don't have to to travel door-to-door to find business. Ask contractors to justify their bids by listing the work/materials that are included - this allows you to make valid comparisons between any estimates.

Florida's DBPR also recently issued a consumer advisory after learning that individuals falsely posing as Department employees are allegedly targeting victims of timeshare scams. The callers are asking victims for cash to pursue refunds for the money they lost in order to obtain full repayment for the victims.

Remember, no matter where you are, the rule of thumb is - do not respond to any unsolicited caller saying they represent a government agency by giving out personal information, by sending money or authorizing them to deduct money from a bank account.

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How to clean glass in windows and doors

November 22, 2013 6:39 pm

Krafka Harkema recommends these tips to create a clearer view:

Step 1: Use an ammonia-free glass cleaner. Try a premixed vinegar-based cleaner, or make your own by mixing one part white vinegar to 10 parts water and apply to the glass. Avoid getting cleaning solutions on wood, fiberglass or vinyl frames, as they may discolor the finish.

Step 2: Use horizontal and vertical motions to wipe away the cleaner with a dry, lint-free towel. Clean interior and exterior surfaces.

Step 3: Wipe up cleaner promptly to keep it from setting into the glass and frame junction, which could potentially weaken the seal.

Step 4: Rinse with clear water if streaks remain after cleaning, and dry with a clean, lint-free towel.

Inviting entryways

Another key project to add curb appeal is replacing your old, worn-out front door. Look for  Energy Star-qualified wood-grain fiberglass exterior doors that look like wood, without the ongoing maintenance of wood.

"Fiberglass entry doors provide exceptional energy efficiency, weather resistance and durability," Krafka Harkema says. "Plus, stylish options in today's elegant fiberglass entry door systems with decorative glass create a distinctive look for your home."

How to hang holiday lights

Displaying holiday lights around windows, doors and other architectural features adds holiday cheer to your home and yard. Follow these tips from Lowe's to safely hang lights:

* Look for LED lights that give off a bright light but remain cool to the touch. They're also more energy efficient and often last longer than regular incandescent bulbs.

* Look for specialty hooks, clamps, adhesive-backed hardware and suction cup hooks that make it easy to attach lights to window trim and door frames. Avoid nailing into a window or door frame to hang lights, which could void the unit's warranty and impact its performance.

* A good rule of thumb is that you'll need 100 lights for every 1 1/2 foot of tree or shrub you want to cover.

Source: www.pella.com/news.

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Word of the Day

November 22, 2013 6:39 pm

Semidetached. One structure containing two dwelling units separated vertically by a common wall.

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Q: What Are the Benefits of Prepaying My Mortgage?

November 22, 2013 6:39 pm

A: You get to save thousands of dollars and shave years off the life of your loan because the additional payments made toward your monthly principal basically constitutes a partial prepayment of your mortgage.

Each mortgage has specific terms describing how and when prepayment may occur.  Some lenders impose a penalty if you repay the loan too soon.

The total savings potential also will depend on how long you plan to live in your home.  If you expect to move in the near future, do not expect to reap savings as large as those gained by people who pay ahead of schedule until they own their home free and clear.  

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Protect Your Landscape with Environmentally Friendly De-Icing

November 20, 2013 6:27 pm

With slippery season quickly approaching for many folks across the country, I want to help you be prepared with some ideas about how to apply environmentally-friendly de-icing around your property.

Diane MacEachern at The Daily Green (thedailygreen.com) recently posted a package of eco-friendly ways to de-ice your walks and driveway including:

  • Snow shovel - Minimize snow and ice by shoveling, and the sooner after snow stops falling, the better.
  • Go electric - If you prefer to use a snowblower, get an electric model. Gas-powered blowers generate a lot more air and noise pollution.
  • Get a grip - Scatter sand or even birdseed for traction. The grains won’t melt snow or ice, but they will give you more grip on icy surfaces.
  • Scrimp on the de-icer - Remember, the job of a de-icer is to loosen ice from below to make it easier to shovel or plow. The recommended application rate for rock salt is around a handful per square yard you treat. Calcium chloride will treat about 3 square yards per handful.
  • Pick your salt carefully - If you do use salt, choose wisely. Sodium chloride (NaCL) may contain cyanide. Calcium chloride (CaCl) is slightly better since less goes farther, but it is still not ideal, since its run-off still increases algae growth, which clogs waterways. Potassium chloride is another salt to avoid.
  • Whatever you use - Keep it away from landscape plants, especially those that are particularly salt-sensitive, like tulip poplars, maples, balsam firs, white pines, hemlock, Norway spruce, dogwood, redbud, rose bushes and spirea bushes.
  • Skip the kitty litter/wood ashes - Neither melts snow and ice, and they get messy when it warms up.
  • Avoid nitrogen-based urea - Products with this additive are more expensive and not effective once the temperature drops below 20°F. Plus, the application rate for urea during a single deicing is ten times greater than that needed to fertilize the same area of your yard. Remember that the urea you apply to the ground will eventually run off into the street, down the drain, and into lakes and streams.

 

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The Five Top Trends in Retail Merchandising

November 20, 2013 6:27 pm

Business analysts have been saying for years that shopping malls are a dying breed. But retailers are fighting back with some unusual shopping opportunities.

“Put your shoes on and head to the mall,” suggested retail trend-watcher Allie Eberle. “You may be surprised at what you find.”

Eberle mentioned the five top trendy business outlets you may find coming soon to your local mall:

Man Cave Pedis – Just in time for holiday gift card-giving come spas for men providing manicures and pedicures in a man-friendly environment featuring masculine designs, deep leather loungers,  and flat screen TVS showing sports.

Pop-up stores –They may feature gourmet chocolates, upscale clothing boutiques, or European cutlery or leather goods. They settle in the mall for a couple of months to  introduce new products to American consumers. Then they’re gone in two or three months, hoping consumers will seek their inventory online while they make room for other pop-up ventures.

Airport mini-spas – Patterned after the ones becoming popular in major airports, these mini-spas offer impromptu hairstyling, cosmetic re-dos, manicure and massage services guaranteed to get you out and on your way in 30 minutes or less.

Crossover stores – Like bookstores selling coffee, these enterprising retailers invent clever crossover services like jewelers selling leather goods, wine shops offering gourmet foods, or cigar stores providing instant shoe repairs.

Techie try-outs – Believe it or not, sales of product at these grown-up toy stores are not the main objective. They are in the mall to let you meet and greet the latest electronic gadgets, try out the latest video games before buying, or help grandma learn to use an iPad – the theory being that if you like what you see, you can buy now or look for a deal online.

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Word of the Day

November 20, 2013 6:27 pm

Mortgagee. Party or institution that lends money; the creditor.

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Q: Should I Avoid an Adjustable Rate Mortgage?

November 20, 2013 6:27 pm

A:  Because adjustable rate mortgages, or ARMs, fluctuate with the market, they offer less stability than fixed-rate loans.  If an ARM is adjusted upward, monthly payments will increase, and for a lot of people that can be too big a risk to take.  On the other hand, should rates drop dramatically, homeowners can reap the benefits of lower rates without refinancing, thereby saving thousands of dollars.

Lenders first introduced ARMs in the 1980s when interest rates soared into the double digits, forcing many people out of the home buying market.  They tied the rate to a variable national index, such as U.S. Treasury bills.

Today, many first-time buyers who have difficulty qualifying for a home loan, still settle for adjustable rate loans because the initial, “teaser” interest rate of the mortgage is normally two or three points lower than a fixed rate loan.  ARMs are particularly attractive if you plan to be in your home a short time.  They tend to adjust yearly or every three years, usually within certain limits, or caps, that prohibit the interest rate from shooting up too high.  Make sure terms such as these are spelled out in any ARM agreement you choose.

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