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Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Word of the Day

November 15, 2013 8:18 pm

Closing statement. Written account of all expenses, adjustments, and disbursements received by the buyer and seller when completing a real estate transaction.

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Q: What Should I Know about Mechanics’ Liens?

November 15, 2013 8:18 pm

A:  A mechanic’s lien is a “hold” against your property that provides contractors and suppliers legal recourse to assure payment for services.  The liens vary from state to state and allow for a cloud on the title of your property and foreclosure action.  Also, if you paid the contractor, but he failed to pay the subcontractors and laborers – who do not have a contract with you – then the workers may file a mechanic's lien on your home.  This could result in a double payment by you for the same job.  You can protect yourself from unwarranted liens by selecting your contractor carefully and managing your construction project responsibly.  Also, most construction lenders will specify a payment distribution process that involves the securing of lien waivers.  The remodeling contract should address this as well, assuring that the general contractor is responsible for all payments as well as any costs required to remedy lien disputes that may arise.

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Taxpayers Should Act Now to Take Advantage of IRS Changes

November 15, 2013 6:18 pm

Unlike last year, tax planning for 2013 is not hampered by uncertainties over a looming fiscal cliff. Unfortunately, there is always some uncertainty and a few expiring provisions to warrant special attention by taxpayers.

Managing income taxes at year end involves techniques designed to address three issues:

• Accelerating or deferring income: If a taxpayer expects to be in the same or a lower tax bracket next year, it's best to defer as much income as possible until after the yearend.

• Accelerating or deferring deductions: If a taxpayer's overall tax rate is the same in both years, accelerating deductions achieves tax savings this year rather than waiting for those tax savings to materialize next year.

• Take advantage of tax provisions scheduled to expire at the end of 2013. There are several temporary tax provisions which can only be used this year.

Tax planning begins by projecting income and deductions for the year to determine your tax bracket and income thresholds that trigger higher and/or additional taxes, or limits the effectiveness of deductions. One of the impacts of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA12)is the reintroduction of the Pease limitation, which can greatly limit itemized deductions. Once a taxpayer knows what his or her income taxes will look like, it’s time to evaluate which techniques will help the most. Strategies to accelerate or defer income:

• Adjust your elective deferral plans at work: Taxpayers who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, or in the Thrift Savings Plan can defer up to $17,500 this year. Taxpayers age 50 and older can defer up to $23,000.

• Harvest capital gains or losses: Long-term capital gains are taxed at 0 percent for taxpayers in the 15 percent bracket. Capital losses can be used to offset capital gains and reduce other income up to $3,000.

• Use the IRA. Taxpayers age 59 ½ and older can accelerate IRA distributions in 2013.  Contributions may be deductible depending on your income level and whether you’re covered by a retirement plan through work. Taxpayers under age 59½ can convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs to accelerate income.

• Health-care assistance: People with health savings accounts – available with some high-deductible health insurance policies—can save up to $3,250 tax-deferred for an individual and $6,450 for a family. Those who are55 and older can save an additional $1,000. Flex spending contribution limits are capped at $2,500 this year. Strategies to accelerate or defer deductions:

• Medical expenses: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) raises the income threshold this year to 10 percent of adjusted gross income for taxpayers under age 65. The threshold remains at 7.5 percent for those 65 and older. Taxpayers may need to prepare or defer medical bills to lump expenses in a single year to get the deduction.

• Gifts to charities: Use a donor advised fund (DAF) to maximize the tax savings from charitable giving. A DAF makes gifting appreciated securities easier. The DAF can be funded in tax years when the deduction will have the most impact. Distribution to charities can be made at any time without tax consideration.

• Qualified Charitable Distribution: This year only, taxpayers age 70½ or older can choose to direct up to $100,000 of their IRA-required minimum distribution to charity. By doing so, the distribution does not show up as taxable income, which can lower taxation of Social Security benefits and help reduce other threshold levels to further minimize taxes.

ATRA12 extended—but did not make permanent—several tax incentives for individuals. Taxpayers should consider whether they can benefit from these incentives this year and plan accordingly. The following provisions are set to expire on Dec. 31 unless extended again:

• State and local sales taxes deduction. Taxpayer can choose between deducting state and local income taxes or the sales taxes they’ve paid through the year.

• Deduction for teacher expenses. Eligible educators can deduct up to $250 of any unreimbursed expenses.

• Deduction of mortgage insurance premiums. Payments of Private Mortgage Insurance premiums can be treated as deductible home mortgage interest in 2013.

• Discharge of principal residence indebtedness. This can be excluded from gross income this year.

• Qualified Charitable Distribution. Taxpayers can make tax-free charitable donations from their required IRA distributions.

2013 is certainly an exciting year for tax planning. Start now in order to minimize your tax bill in April.

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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How to Financially Survive Your Golden Years

November 15, 2013 6:18 pm

Americans are living longer these days from an average 47 years in 1900 to more than 78 years as of 2010. We are also experiencing a deluge of adults reaching retirement age now that includes 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day.

By 2030, when the last of the baby boomers have turned 65, nearly one in five Americans will be retirement age, according to the Pew Research Center’s population projections. Money will be a big problem for many of them, especially if boomers develop health problems that affect their ability to live independently, says insurance expert and CEO of Life Care Funding Chris Orestis.

“Life Care Funding created a financial solution for seniors that own a life insurance policy that converts the policy into a Long-Term Care Benefit Plan; this gives the policy owner the option to use their policy while still alive to help pay for their choice of any form of senior care services,” says Orestis, a former insurance industry lobbyist who recently contributed to the federal Commission on Long-Term Care’s fact-finding mission.

“With 30 percent of the Medicaid population consuming 87 percent of Medicaid dollars on long-term care services, we can see that’s not going to be sustainable,” Orestis says. “More individuals will be forced to find their own resources to pay for those needs. That’s why states such as California, Florida, New York and Texas are embracing legislation requiring seniors to be notified that they can convert their life insurance policy for 30 to 60 percent of its death benefit value. The money can be put into an irrevocable fund designated specifically for any form of care they choose.”

Orestis details more ways in which seniors might handle long-term care and other budgetary issues:

• Senior discounts really add up! Here’s a list of establishments to check out: www.lifecarefunding.com/blog/senior-discounts/. Restaurants, supermarkets, department stores, travel deals and other merchants give various senior discounts with minimum age requirements ranging from 55 to 62. Some of these places are worth making habits, with 15 percent off the bill at Applebee’s, 30 percent off at Banana Republic and 60 percent off at Food Lion on Mondays! Don’t forget your free cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts if you’re 55 or older, and don’t be shy – at many of these places you’ll have to ask for the discount.

• Long-term care is a matter of survival, so use your best options. The practice of converting a life insurance policy into a Life Care Benefit has been an accepted method of payment for private duty in-home care, assisted living, skilled nursing, memory care and hospice care for years. Instead of abandoning a policy when they can no longer afford the premiums, policy owners have the option to take the present-day value of the policy while they are still alive and convert it into a Long Term Care Benefit Plan. By converting the policy, a senior will remain in private pay longer and be able to choose the form of care that they want but will be Medicaid-eligible when the benefit is spent down.

• Your “last act” may be decades away, so plan accordingly. It makes sense to finally enjoy your money after a lifetime of savings, but be smart about it. Take time to organize your paperwork and create a master file that holds things such as insurance policies, investments, property, wills and trusts, etc. so you have your financial picture in one place. Also, live smart today and hold off on that new car if you don’t need a new one. If your current car is paid off and you sit tight for an additional two years, you’ll save $7,200 on a new car with $300 monthly payments. Refinancing your home may also be a very good idea, since rates are still hovering around their all-time lows. Get at least three quotes, compare rates, terms and potential penalties to make sure you’re getting the best deal.  Also, live healthy and buy more fruits and vegetables and less junk food to lessen the chance you’ll need long-term care in the future.

 

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Bathroom Decor: Big Bang Ideas for Less Than $100

November 15, 2013 6:18 pm

(BPT) - When it comes to bathroom decor, tastes and preferences are as common and varied as wrinkles on elbows. A look that delights one homeowner may disgust another, but one trend suits everyone's taste: saving money. You may want your bathroom redo to look like you spent a million bucks on it, but you can get a whole new look for a lot less than that.

In fact, some downright cheap upgrades can be quite dazzling. Here are a handful of high-impact ways to achieve a whole new look for less than $100:

* Paint is always a cost-effective upgrade, and you can buy a good gallon for $30 or less. The simple act of changing wall color can impart a designer look, and if you're careful with those edges, no one will ever know you did it yourself.

* Wallpaper is costly, messy and best left to the professionals, right? Wrong. Whether you shop online or in a big box store, you can find appealing wallpaper murals for less than $100 - and installation is as easy as pulling it out of the package and positioning it on the wall.

* Sometimes bathroom tile starts to look faded, outdated and tired without being chipped or cracked - two problems that would require you to replace damaged tile. If your tile is in good shape, but just not perky enough for you, repainting it is a cheap, easy way to create a whole new look without the work and expense of retiling. It's easy to find a variety of tile paint colors at your local home improvement store, and prices average around $30 a gallon. While you're at it, do a little something with the grout - either regrouting entirely or using a stain to dye the grout to complement the tile.

* Treat yourself to a new showerhead. You may not realize the unhappy impact of an old, inefficient or dated showerhead until you're standing under a new one enjoying the fall of water. You can certainly spend a lot to get a new showerhead with all the bells and whistles, but you can also find plenty of attractive, efficient and stimulating options for much less than $100. Installation is well within the abilities of your average DIYer.

* Sadly, bathroom lighting often goes to one extreme or the other: either it's a bright, overhead fixture that casts enough glare to land a plane by, or it's a dinky band of bulbs above the bathroom mirror that doesn't provide adequate illumination to brush your teeth, let alone apply makeup. Most people move into a house and live with the current bathroom lighting, but switching it is easy, cheap and a great way to improve the room's safety, usability and looks all at the same time.

Taking your bathroom from boring to "bam!" doesn't have to cost big bucks. Just look for low-cost improvements that deliver big impact, and you can achieve a million-dollar look on a shoestring budget.

Source: www.muralsyourway.com

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Word of the Day

November 15, 2013 6:18 pm

Cloud on title.  Defect in the title that impairs the owner’s ability to market the property.  This might be a lien, claim, judgment, or encumbrance.

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Are You Ready to Downsize Your Kitchen

November 14, 2013 10:15 pm

In our last segment, I dove into the subject of downsizing kitchens. Whether it's simplifying arrangements of cabinets and appliances as we age in place, or a desire for a modern or minimalist cooking zone, there is no shortage of good advice on how to get started and get through it.

Mariette Mifflin, a housewares and appliances writer at about.com says a large number of baby boomers are eyeing moving to low maintenance apartments or condos, while others will plan to retire to their smaller cottages or vacation homes to age in place.

Mifflin says consider the many more compact appliances that offer energy saving options, like an economy dry settings on dishwashers, 1 and 2 hour auto shut-off on coffee makers, and low water features on washers.

According to Mifflin, delay start has now become a great energy saving option for those areas that pay for electricity based on when they use it, with peak and off-peak rates. You can set a dishwasher with this feature while you're loading it, but it will only start later in the evening when energy off-peak rate is lower.  

Cambria Bold design and lifestyle editor for The Kitchn (thekitchn.com) says don't be afraid of using darker colors - done right a darker color scheme can actually make a smaller kitchen space appear bigger.

At cultivate.com, Susan Serra writes that visual tricks will be actively incorporated to create a more open feeling. For example, backsplashes that are more simple in design than ever before, such as single sheets of glass (a hot material), engineered stone or other seamless surfaces, such as stainless steel.

The reason this works: A seamless backsplash has a huge effect on a kitchen's "visual clutter", is a natural complement to the modern kitchen and a practical solution for small kitchens where appliances are in close proximity to surfaces.

Serra says large interesting nooks and crannies decoratively illuminated in the kitchen can create new focal points as well as adding a spacious look. And she says appliances will largely disappear from view in 2013, allowing even high-end, chef's style appliances to be seamlessly incorporated into any kitchen space.  

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5 Tips for Winter Tire Safety

November 14, 2013 10:15 pm

Safety on the road is important all year-round, but winter weather calls for extra caution behind the wheel to keep you and your passengers safe. That's why many auto safety experts including Discount Tire, the world's largest tire and wheel retailer, urge motorists to keep road safety top of mind this winter and switch to tires specifically designed for cold weather driving.

Winter tires are designed for driving in temperatures 45 degrees or below. If there's any chance you'll encounter snow, ice, slush, black ice or wet roads on a consistent basis you should prepare your car for these conditions.

Often, drivers aren't aware that commonly used all-season tires have a rubber compound that gradually hardens when temperatures dip below 45 degrees. When this happens, braking and turning is compromised as there is decreased road traction and less grip. It's also important to note that snow and ice often pile up in the tire grooves and tread blocks on all-season tires which can impact your vehicle's performance.

Winter tires are made with higher silica compounds. This allows the tire to deliver much better traction which reduces skidding and improves braking. In fact, in temperatures below 45 degrees, winter tires can provide 25 to 50 percent more traction than all-season tires. In addition, the tread block design includes thousands of very small interlocking slits—known as sipes—to provide extra road biting edges for improved winter traction.

"Every aspect of a winter tire has been engineered to provide the best performance in winter conditions and temperature fluctuations while maintaining traction on any surface," said Mark Marrufo of Discount Tire. "The winter tire advantage will maximize your safety and provide piece of mind during the winter months.”

5 Tips for Winter Tire Safety

  1. Replace your all-season tires with winter tires for driving in temperatures 45 degrees or below. Make sure to replace all four tires with winter tires to avoid an unsafe traction mismatch.
  2. Don't forget the wheels when switching to winter tires. Having a set of wheels specifically for your set of winter tires will save money in the long run.
  3. Check tire inflation pressure regularly and don't forget the spare. Under-inflated or over-inflated tires may result in poor handling, uneven tread wear and poor fuel consumption.
  4. Rotate your tires at least every 6,000 miles or earlier if irregular or uneven wear develops.
  5. Make sure the tire shop that gets your tires ready for cold temperatures torques the lug nuts to the proper specifications for your vehicle.


Source: www.discounttire.com.

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5 Things You Shouldn't Include in Your Will

November 14, 2013 10:15 pm

Having a will and other estate plans are essential to ensuring your assets pass on to their intended recipients when you pass on.

However, there are certain provisions that don't belong in your will, as they simply can't be enforced under the law.

Here are five of the most common things you shouldn't include in your will:

1. Funeral Plans.

Although it may seem fun to memorialize your wish to be cremated and turned into a well-cut diamond, your will isn't the best place for burial preferences.

Your body technically isn't property, so it cannot be a part of your estate. You can try to include burial preferences in your will, but because your body isn't under your estate's control, your wishes may not be carried out according to your plan.

A good alternative is to discuss funeral plans ahead of time with your executor and arrange for services to be paid out of your estate -- this can be done in your will. But be wary of pre-paid funeral plans.

2. Your 'Digital Estate.'

If you died today, you would likely leave behind a sizeable amount of "property" in your digital estate. This includes iTunes purchases, eBooks, and items in other cloud-based online accounts.

This area of law is likely to be more sophisticated in the future, but for the moment, your digital bequests are unlikely to be enforceable. You may, however, choose to bequeath your account info and passwords.

3. Jointly Held Property.

Pretty much the defining feature of a joint tenancy is the right of survivorship, meaning that when you or the other joint tenant dies, the survivor automatically owns the property in full. So putting your interest in a joint tenancy in your will is meaningless, as when you die, that interest disappears.

4. Life Insurance and Retirement Funds.

Life insurance and retirement plans require you to designate a beneficiary of the plan upon your death. When you die, the assets associated with your life insurance or retirement fund will immediately transfer to the intended beneficiary, so they can't be distributed by your will.

5. Illegal Gifts and Requests.

You may be literally dying to unload a cache of illicit drugs or to have your relatives burn down a building in honor of your death, but the law frowns upon wills containing those kind of illegal requests.

Source: Findlaw

 

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Word of the Day

November 14, 2013 10:15 pm

Quit-claim deed. A conveyance by which the grantor transfers whatever interest he or she has in the real estate without warranties or obligations.

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