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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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Office Phone: 215-453-7653
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email: tom@tomskiffington.com
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Tom's Blog

Hard Water: Bad for Your Home and Wallet

September 25, 2013 4:03 pm

BPT—Nearly 90 percent of American homes have hard water - water containing high levels of calcium and magnesium, according to The U.S. Geological Survey. The hardest water is commonly found in the states that run from Kansas to Texas as well as in Southern California. Hard water on its own is bad enough, making it difficult to wash clothes and dishes and leaving scaling on your pipes and showerheads as well as nasty brown rings in your sinks and toilets. However, it is also costing you money.

Research by the Battelle Institute found that with hard water, showerheads lost 75 percent of their flow rate in less than 18 simulated months and could not maintain the required flow rate because of scaling.

Water heaters are also negatively affected by hard water. When using softened water, researchers found that all the water heaters tested maintained 100 percent efficiency over a simulated 15-year lifetime, but with hard water, the gas and electric heater efficiency dropped by 25 percent - an incredible loss in energy resulting in significantly higher costs. In the case of the new instant tankless water heaters, hard water caused them to completely fail to function because of plugged-up scale, or mineral build-up associated with hard water, after only 1.6 years of simulated use - about a tenth the normal life of the appliance.

Another study conducted for the Water Quality Research Foundation assessed the impact of water hardness on automatic dishwashers. Soft water was up to 12 times more effective at cleaning dishes than increasing the amount of detergent used. Researchers also found that for washing machines, the most important factor in removing stains was water softness. Reduction of water hardness was up to 100 times more effective at stain removal than increasing the detergent dose or washing with hotter water.

You can take steps to eliminate the source of the scaling with a salt-based water softener. In order to make hard water into soft water, you have to remove the calcium and magnesium. The only way to do that effectively is with a salt-regenerated water softener. These work by running the incoming hard water through a resin filter that traps the calcium and magnesium in the water, as well as any iron, manganese or radium ions and replacing them with sodium ions. Magnetic and other non-salt based water softeners do not remove these harmful hard minerals.

Do-it-yourself water testing kits are available at most hardware stores, or you can have a water treatment professional do the testing. The Water Quality Association's website lets you search by company name, state or ZIP code to help find a professional in your area to handle the testing.

Eliminating hard water minerals delivers significant benefits in terms of the efficiency and maintenance cost of appliances and plumbing. From a budgeting perspective, using less detergent and energy can add up to real savings for families and individuals. Plus the harder these machines have to work, the faster they wear out and need repair or replacement, representing another very significant expense for homeowners. For more information on water softening, visit water-softening.org.

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Agents and Contracts: 5 Legal Considerations

September 25, 2013 4:03 pm

Businesses often use agents to enter into contracts on matters both mundane and important -- even matters that can make or break a fledgling company.

When one of these agreements goes sour, a small business may be left on the hook for the slip-up of an employee who was vested with the power to enter into an agreement on the company's behalf.

Still, small business owners must delegate responsibilities to succeed. So here are five legal considerations when dealing with agents and contracts:

1. Who Has Authority?

You may have many employees working for your business, so it's important to know which ones are authorized to act on behalf of your company.

The relationship between a business owner and his or her agent is often defined by contract (i.e., the employment contract), but an employer may also imply authority based on an employee's duties.

Unless it is explicitly defined otherwise, most employees -- and even some independent contractors -- will have authority to act on your company's behalf, and that includes entering into contracts.

2. Who Is Liable?

Just like when an employee crashes the company truck, an employer is liable for those acts that an employee undertakes with the company's authority.

If an employee, vested with the company's authority, violates the terms of a contract or interferes with a pre-existing arrangement, then the employer will be held liable for any contract or tort damages.

3. What Is Apparent Authority?

When an employer authorizes an employee to enter into agreements or make decisions on behalf of a business, that is actual authority. But an employee acting as if he or she has authority is said to have apparent authority.

As an experienced contracts lawyer would tell you, companies can be just as liable if customers or clients have relied on employees' apparent authority to enter into a contract.

4. How Do You Know an Agent Has Authority?

It is very easy for small business owners to be bamboozled by individual sales agents claiming to represent a larger company. In one recent case, a small business owner in Texas claims she was tricked into cutting a sales rep a $3,000 deposit check for a sign that was ultimately not feasible, reports Lubbock's KCBD-TV.

Although the Texas business owner can likely recover from the company for the actions of its representative, it's best to avoid dealing with shady sales associates and never write one a personal check for a business expense.

5. Who Can Review a Contract for Me?

Once you figure out whether an agent has authority to enter into a contract, you'll want to get that contract reviewed. By using a prepaid legal plan like, you can get an attorney to review your contract and answer questions on a wide range of legal topics. Find a prepaid legal plan at www.legalstreet.com.

Sources: www.LegalStreet.com, www.FindLaw.com

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Do You Have a Written Income Plan for Retirement?

September 25, 2013 4:03 pm

“Age 85 is a bad time to go broke,” says expert retirement planner Jeff Gorton.  Personal savings, various investments and, yes, Social Security may prove to be short of what you’d expected.

“Budgeting how you spend money before retirement can often be a misleading measurement of how you’ll actually spend it during retirement,” says Gorton, a veteran Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner™, and head of Gorton Financial Group.

“Spending 40 hours a week at work not only earns you a paycheck, it also keeps you from spending money on more vacations, matinee screenings at the movie theater, extra trips to the mall or shopping online. You need to be exceedingly realistic in your planning, and the five years before retirement are actually the most crucial in solidifying post-employment stability.”

To prevent a rude awakening during retirement, Gorton makes certain his clients start with a written income plan (WIP). He reviews the benefits and importance of this “living document”:

• A comprehensive list of life expenses paints a clearer picture. For a 65-year-old married couple today, there is a 72 percent chance that at least one spouse will live to age 85; a 45 percent chance that one will live to age 90, and an 18 percent chance that one will reach age 95, according a recent study from the CDC National Center for Health Statistics. You may not think of listing things like pet care, yard maintenance, and regular visits to salons or spas. But if you enjoy those services now, you may want them during retirement, and you might find that you underestimated the real cost of maintaining your desired lifestyle. And, that’s not including gifts to children and grandchildren!

• The forecast of a two-legged stool. A WIP helps you appreciate the reliability of retirement income. What sources of income do you anticipate having? Traditionally, retirement funding has been viewed as a “three-legged stool,” implying a balance between Social Security, retirement plans and savings/investments. As the baby boom generation ages, Social Security benefits may decrease — and the age at which an individual can collect benefits may increase. Changes in employment may affect retirement plans. As a result, the third leg of the stool, savings/investments, may become even more important.

• Who is authoring your WIP? As with all written documents, you must always consider the source. What you may not realize is that a financial planner is liable to have a stake in selling you a financial product. Just like a retailer may have an incentive to move certain brands of products, many planners are incentivized to have you invest in specific financial vehicles from major institutions. What plan works best for you? Seek advice from an expert who isn’t trying to sell you something, such as an independent firm.

“If you don’t have a written income plan, then you’re just hoping things will work out,” Gorton says.

Source:  www.gortonfinancialgroup.com

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Word of the Day

September 25, 2013 4:03 pm

Binder. Short purchase contract used in some areas to secure a real estate transaction until a more formal contract can be signed at a later date; usually accompanied by an earnest money deposit.

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Q: What if I am not happy with the listing agent and want to terminate the contract?

September 25, 2013 4:03 pm

A: Experts say unhappiness is not a legal reason to terminate a valid home sale-listing contract. Legally, to cancel a listing, you must be able to prove the agent's lack of "due diligence."  This means the agent isn't taking the normal steps to properly market your home, such as putting your listing into the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), advertising on the Internet and in local newspapers, and posting a for-sale sign on the property.

If your home is overpriced, perhaps you need to consider reducing the price to spark buyer interest.   Otherwise, you may need to meet with the listing agent and his or her supervising broker to discuss the problem.  If the agent is doing an awful job, you might suggest the listing be transferred to a more effective agent within the same brokerage firm. Remember, limit the listing contract to 90 days, in case you become unhappy and would like to get another agent after the contract expires.

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Should You Buy the Car at the End of Its Lease?

September 24, 2013 6:00 pm

Most people nearing the end of a car lease term are confronted with the same question: "Should I buy the car or move on to a new one?" Edmunds.com, a resource for car shopping and automotive information, says the biggest step toward answering that question comes down to two important numbers: the car's buyout price – called the residual value – and its current market value.

"The residual is the pre-determined estimate of the car's value – and the guaranteed buyout price – at the end of the lease term," says Edmunds.com Sr. Consumer Advice Editor Philip Reed.

Other factors to consider when deciding whether to buy or return a leased vehicle:

  • Many lease agreements include a "purchase option" fee, which is a fee of up to a couple of hundred dollars that must be paid on top of the residual price. Factor this into the expense of buying it.
  • If you're unhappy with your residual value – especially if it's higher than the market value – there may be some leeway to negotiate it down. Check with the lease holder – either the bank or a "captive finance company" – for its flexibility.
  • Procrastination may be an option. If you're not ready to buy or return the car at the end of the lease term, you can continue to lease on a month-to-month basis at the same price.

Source: www.edmunds.com.  

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Your Student's First Report Card of the Year

September 24, 2013 6:00 pm

The school year is in full swing now and your child will soon bring home his or her first report card of the school year. Use this as an opportunity to open the lines of communication with your child and his or her teacher and make positive strides forward for the rest of the year.

"Many students and their parents dread report cards, but we encourage parents to use these tools to help their children," says Eileen Huntington, co-founder of Huntington Learning Center. When evaluating report cards, Huntington suggests that parents keep several things in mind:

  • Getting angry is unproductive. If your child's report card is disappointing, it may be difficult to keep your emotions in check. However, remember that if you are upset, your child is probably even more so. Yelling and scolding will not help and will only add more stress to the situation. Take the time you need to privately deal with your own feelings before you approach your child to talk.
  • Communication is critical. If the grades and remarks on the report card are a total surprise to you, perhaps it is time to improve your communication both with your child and his or her teacher. First, have an open, straightforward and non-judgmental conversation with your child about school. What does your child like about school?
  • What subjects are difficult? Is there anything outside the classroom he or she is struggling with? Once you've talked with your child, arrange a meeting with the teacher. Identify the areas of the report card that concern you most and talk about what the teacher sees in the classroom. Ask for his or her advice on what steps to take next to make improvements and how you can best support your child at home. As you go forward, be sure to keep up good communication throughout the school year.
  • It's not all bad. A report card full of poor grades may be disheartening, but pay attention to the positive signs that may be less obvious. Take note of improvements from last year and encouraging comments from teachers, for example. If this is difficult, find other ways to boost your child's self-esteem. Is your child creative? Is he or she passionate about helping others, including friends? Does he or she have a positive attitude, despite the struggles with which he or she is dealing?
  • Surprises may be worth investigating further. Don't ignore new developments or signs of problems that you've not seen before, as your child may experience different challenges throughout his or her school career. In the beginning of a school year when students are learning many new skills, it isn't uncommon for problems to arise. A gap in skills, a faster paced class or a new teaching style can cause issues for students. 


Source: www.huntingtonhelps.com.

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Efficient Ways to Light Your Home

September 24, 2013 6:00 pm

When adding energy-efficient upgrades to your home, it's important to ensure even the most fundamental of enhancements—such as lighting—offers the ease of use, reliability and value expected from traditional, incandescent options.

Advancements in bulb technology
Though they have had a presence in homes for the last three decades, the compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulb has greatly improved since its infancy. Some enhancements include reduced price, availability in standard warm tones and "A-line" shaped bulbs that mimic the look and feel of traditional incandescent bulbs.

New technologies include GE's Bright from the Start CFL. This hybrid halogen-CFL light bulb provides instant brightness, and is now available at Target in a 100-watt incandescent replacement -- in addition to other wattages -- for table or floor lamps, as well as globe lights for vanity lighting and floodlights for recessed lighting used in rooms throughout the home.

While new lighting advancements bring a wealth of benefits to many homeowners, there are still some mixed messages about the value of CFL bulbs, as a whole.

Common myths related to CFL bulbs
As the lighting industry shifts to provide more energy-efficient lighting options, more and more homeowners are giving CFLs a try. However, a variety of myths about CFL lighting still exist today, many of which are no longer true, including:

1. CFLs produce an unattractive blue light. Today's CFLs can produce a soft white color similar to incandescent bulbs. Check the packaging for Kelvin numbers within a range of 2,700 to 3,000 for a warmer light appearance.

2. CFLs take a long time to get bright. While many CFLs takes up to a minute to reach full brightness, there are now more advanced options. GE's hybrid-halogen CFL, uses a Brightness Booster, or a halogen capsule, for instant brightness, eliminating to wait for bright light.

3. CFLs are only available in corkscrew shapes. Many options are now available that mirror the traditional shape of incandescent bulbs for a variety of applications. One option is a 100-watt replacement bulb for table or floor lamps, as well as globe lights commonly used for bathroom vanity lighting and recessed lighting in kitchen, living and dining rooms.

Source: www.gelighting.com.

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Word of the Day

September 24, 2013 6:00 pm

Redlining. Practice of refusing to make loans in certain neighborhoods. Also applies to insurance companies that refuse to offer policies in certain neighborhoods.

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Q: What's the Best Way to Negotiate Price?

September 24, 2013 6:00 pm

A: Be patient, know your home’s worth, adopt a positive attitude, and do not let emotions – anger, pride, greed, or prejudice – get in the way of negotiating the best deal.

Your home obviously means a lot to you, but you have already made the decision to move on, so begin to think of your home as “the house” or “the condo,” instead of “my home.”  

When reasonable offers come along, take them seriously.  You can always counter any offer made by the buyer that comes near your asking price.  Do not spoil a good deal over a few hundred dollars.

 

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