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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

Small Changes to Upgrade Your Home

September 10, 2013 2:33 am

(BPT)—Flipping through the television channels, it's hard not to find a home improvement show about remodeling and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. From "Property Brothers" to "Design Star," these popular programs give homeowners ideas on how to modernize their spaces. If you're planning your own DIY projects, here are three areas of the home that will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to a makeover.

First stop: the bathroom

Bathroom remodels are the most popular remodeling projects because they have a high return on investment, according to the National Association of Home Builders. When you're ready to sell your house, renovating the bathroom typically has a return of 62 percent. A low-cost way to modernize the bathroom is installing new faucets. Look for a signature style featuring cylindrical, geometric shapes and distinct 90-degree angles, such as the new Moen Arris collection, for an iconic, modern update.

Another idea for modernizing the bathroom is to add additional light sources. Bringing in more light will open up the space and make your bathroom come to life. The bathroom is often a place to unwind, and adding the right lighting can set the tone for a spa-like atmosphere. One way to do this, without breaking your budget, is by simply replacing the light fixtures. Add a modern touch to your bath with dramatic choices like chandeliers and sconces.

Second stop: the living room

Modern design doesn't have to mean uncomfortable. Homeowners love modern interiors for the sleek and streamlined look, which leads to less clutter and visual stress. Expand the modern theme throughout the home by updating furniture with unfussy and relaxed pieces. You don't need to buy everything new. Fabric covers, in an array of prints and colors, can instantly bring new life to old furniture. For pieces that need to be replaced, consider purchasing solid and neutral furniture. As trends change, you can switch out pillows and blankets to stay up-to-date.

Keep neutrals in mind when selecting paint colors, as well. White, black, brown and gray will go with just about anything. For a pop of color, paint an accent wall with a bold color, or add extra personality with drapery or area rugs. Use lamps, paintings and accessories to give a personal touch throughout the rest of your living space.

Final stop: the kitchen

Opening up shelving is a way to put a fresh, modern spin on your existing kitchen layout. You can order new cabinets with glass panels or simply remove the doors from your existing ones. Just make sure the exposed areas are not cluttered. Open shelving is a perfect place to display dishes. For a crisp look, try stacks of white plates and bowls. If you're looking for an edgy feel, try patterned or bright-colored ones. Adding new hardware to cabinets is also an inexpensive way to improve the look of your kitchen.

Since you updated your faucet in the bathroom, consider doing your kitchen the same favor.  . To complement your new faucet, look to update your counters as well. Granite remains a popular choice because of its high style and durability.

Integrating technology into home design

It's not just about making your life easier, technology can also aesthetically enhance your living space with modern touches. Mirror technology allows homeowners to disguise the TV when it isn't in use. Available for all TV models, it will look like a mirror is in the room until the unit is turned on. The iCon Bed from Hollandia features a headboard equipped with speakers, an amplifier and docking stations for two iPads. The NestLearning Thermostat shares the same designer as the iPod, and automatically creates a temperature-control schedule personalized around your lifestyle; while also saving energy.

Source: moen.com

 

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How to Get Out of a Car Purchase: Is There a Cooling-Off Period?

September 10, 2013 2:33 am

If you are wondering how to get out of a car purchase, your first thought may have been to invoke the federal "cooling-off rule." But this rule, which allows consumers to cancel certain sales transactions within three days as a protection against high-pressure sales tactics, does not cover car purchases. While negotiating with a car dealer is often described as a high-pressure situation, cars lose a tremendous amount of value the moment they are driven off the lot. Therefore, allowing a cooling-off period would force dealers to sell virtually new cars at sharply reduced resale prices.

Car Purchase Contracts and Cancellation Agreements

Instead, it's really important for car buyers to fully understand the terms of the contract, including optional fee-based cancellation agreements, before signing on the dotted line.

Some state laws require dealers to offer extra protections for used car buyers, which serve as incentives to buy. In California, for example, car dealers are required to inform consumers about Contract Cancellation Option Agreements for used cars costing less than $40,000. These agreements, which cost roughly $250 for a car listed at between $10,000 and $30,000, allow the buyer to return the vehicle within two days if they have a change of heart.

Defective Cars and Illegal Sales Tactics

Most other protections for car purchases pertain only to defective automobiles or illegal sales tactics. For example, Massachusetts law requires used car dealers to provide a full refund if an automobile fails to pass a safety inspection test within the first seven days after the buyer takes delivery (the point at which the new owner drives it off the dealer's lot). Additionally, many states have agencies tasked with mediating disputes between buyers and dealers.

Lemon laws protect new car buyers from defects that the dealer is unable to repair. So while they don't offer a way for buyers who simply change their mind, these laws do offer protections against defective vehicles. States have specific lemon laws.

Florida lemon law, for example, requires consumers to have first reported a defect to the dealer or manufacturer within 24 months of taking delivery. If the dealer is unable to fix the car after three attempts, the consumer must contact the manufacturer, which has 10 days to direct the consumer to an independent repair facility. If the car is not fixed by the third-party repair facility within 30 days, the consumer may seek a refund.

If you believe the dealership where you purchased your automobile engaged in fraud or failed to live up to its contractual obligations, then you may consider filing a formal complaint with your state's attorney general's office. Also, never assume your car is covered by a warranty and make sure any such guarantee is spelled out in the sales contract.

If you were not subject to fraud, the car is not defective, and you did not purchase an option to cancel the sale, it may be very difficult to get out of a contract. But you still may have options if you are wondering how to get out of a car purchase. In the absence of cooling-off periods for car purchases, some dealerships will make exceptions; so it never hurts to ask.

Source: Findlaw

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Make Your Home Safer for Your Family

September 10, 2013 2:33 am

(Family Features)—Filled with mesmerizing trinkets and gadgets—your home is a new and exciting world for your small child to explore. But this new world can introduce serious and sometimes surprising safety issues that many parents do not realize are risks.

Hidden concerns in common household devices

As your children happily toddle around your home, they may come in contact with unknown safety issues scattered throughout. One issue you may not have considered is coin lithium batteries, about the size of a nickel, which can be found around most homes in everyday items like remote controls, keyless entry devices for your car, sound-enabled books and a variety of health and fitness devices. Because many of these devices are not regulated as children’s toys, the battery compartments often are very easy to open. Children are naturally drawn to these devices, as many include buttons that are fun to play with and push.

The danger of these batteries is very real. If a coin-sized lithium battery is swallowed by a small child, it can get caught in the esophagus. The battery can react with saliva and cause a chemical reaction that can lead to severe injuries in as little as two hours. Unfortunately, many parents do not know about the issue. In fact, a recent survey showed 62 percent of parents reported being unaware of the risk associated with coin lithium batteries.

Spread the word

In an effort to help keep children safe, Energizer and the National Safety Council are working together to educate parents and caregivers on the steps they can take to help prevent these injuries.

“We know parents and caregivers are constantly thinking about their children’s safety, but we want to bring awareness to an issue still unknown to many families,” said Amy Heinzen, Program Manager of Grants and Strategic Initiatives for the National Safety Council. “Coin lithium battery safety needs to be top of mind and we hope parents will take the time to learn about the issue with these four simple steps to help children be safe.”

In case of emergency

If it is suspected a child has swallowed a coin lithium battery, it is important to go to the emergency department immediately.

For more information on child safety and coin lithium battery safety, visit nsc.org, www.energizer.com, www.TheBatteryControlled.com and www.poison.org/battery.

 

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Word of the Day

September 10, 2013 2:33 am

Refinance. To pay off one loan by taking out another on the same property.

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Q: Does a Contractor Have to Provide a Warranty for the Work?

September 10, 2013 2:33 am

A: It depends on whether one is required by state law.  If your contractor offers a warranty, which ensures quality workmanship and required repairs if faulty products or workmanship is discovered, ask to see a copy of the written provisions to make sure you have sufficient protection from defective work.  You may want to become familiar with your state law, if applicable.  

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How to Reduce the Biggest Expense of Your Life: Taxes

September 6, 2013 6:12 pm

Taxes account for the most expensive burden you’ll experience in your lifetime, says engineer-turned-independent financial planning coach Rao K. Garuda.

In addition to federal, state, city and death taxes, there are 59 other varieties. Relatively few taxes, however, account for the bulk of the burden on citizens, says Garuda, whose clients include retirees, people planning for retirement, physicians, business owners and other professionals.

He thinks his fellow Americans deserve a shot at keeping more of their money.

“When I came to the United States, I had less than $10 in my pocket, but I had an excellent education as an engineer. When I married a physician, I realized how expensive it is to make a good living here,” says Garuda, who quickly applied his analytical engineering mind to understanding the complicated tax system.

“Since this country has given me so much, I wanted to repay my fellow Americans with strategies for keeping more of their own money.”

Garuda identifies some of the most expensive and common tax hurdles affecting Americans and offers advice on troubleshooting our tax system.

• Problem: The IRA tax: great on the front end, terrible down the road. Solution: An IRA is tax-deferred, which means it will accumulate value over time. But when you withdraw from it, you will be heavily penalized with high taxes. That’s why you should convert this asset to a Roth IRA, which allows your money to grow tax-free. Since the money put in was already taxed you don’t have to pay any taxes when you take it out, and, overall, you’ll save a significant amount of money.

• Problem: Too many people don’t take advantage of creating tax-free income via insurance products. Solution: From a financial perspective, retirees and professional planners run into a significant issue: seniors, blessed with good health, who outlive their money. But with certain insurance products, retirees can create tax-free income while covering the later years of retirement – and protect their wealth if they become severely ill. There are certain insurance products tied to the stock market that can help people accumulate assets in the long run. Many of these products offer a tremendous upside for potential without the downside of increased risk.

• Problem: Missed opportunities – people who don’t take advantage of free money in a 401k.  Solution: Perhaps the company you work for is, like many others, bureaucratic to the point of being impractical. Your employer may not have done the best job communicating details about benefits such as matching 401k contributions, or you may not have taken the time to learn them. Now’s the time; this is free money! If your employer is offering a 50 percent match on your first 6 percent of contributions to the 401k, you should be contributing at least 6 percent. Educate yourself on your company’s plan so you can take full advantage.

Source:  www.aca-incorp.com

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Parents Can Find Ways to Support Teachers

September 6, 2013 6:12 pm

(BPT)—Parents know educating their children is a collaborative effort between families and teachers. Each new school year, parents look for ways to make that effort as fruitful and positive for their children as possible. By supporting their child's teacher, parents can help ensure kids get the best education possible every year.

If you're looking for ways to show your child's teacher your support - and facilitate his or her efforts to educate your child - keep these points in mind:

Supplies show support

Teachers often spend their own money to ensure their students and classrooms have the supplies they need throughout the year. In fact, a study by the National School Supply and Equipment Association found that teachers spend an average of $356 from their own pockets on supplies and instructional materials - a total of $1.3 billion for all U.S. public school teachers. The same study revealed that parents - not governments, corporations or even charities - were the major source of supplemental funds for classroom needs, averaging $19 per student on classroom supplies.

This year, parents can do even more to ensure students and teachers have the supplies they need to succeed. Teachers participating in the Staples Teacher Rewards and Reward-A-Classroom programs can now generate custom supply lists that parents can access on www.staples.com/rewardaclassroom. Searching by the teacher's name and city, parents can locate and print out a custom list, and bring it to a Staples store - or order directly from Staples.com. Additionally, through the Reward-A-Classroom program, parents can earn extra rewards for a participating teacher of their choice. By linking their Staples Rewards account to a participating teacher's Rewards Account, parents will earn an additional 2 percent back in Rewards on everything (5 percent back on any Copy & Print order) when they shop in store and online that will go directly to the teacher. Parents will still receive their usual five percent back in Staples Rewards on everything.

"Sometimes, helping obtain needed supplies can be the most supportive thing a parent can do for their child's teacher," says Alison Corcoran, senior vice president of stores and online marketing for Staples. "When parents can help supply teachers simply by spending money on things they would purchase regardless, it's a win-win situation for everyone."

To learn more about the rewards programs, log on to www.staples.com/rewards.

Stay in touch - in every way

Schools often offer orientation nights to introduce parents to teachers and demonstrate the curriculum students will learn throughout the year. Attending these events is a simple, powerful way to show teachers you support their efforts - and appreciate them taking personal time after hours to benefit your children.

If your teacher maintains a website or page for your child's class, be sure to check in regularly for homework assignments, news and any updates to your teacher's supplies list or wish list. Keeping in touch helps teachers know you're aware of their work and of students' achievements.

Hands on wherever you are

Whether it's at home checking your child's homework or as a volunteer in the classroom, taking a hands-on approach to helping shows teachers you are as committed to your child's education as they are.

Schools need volunteers for a range of activities, from assisting on testing days and in school libraries to helping out with parties, performances, sporting events and other fun occasions. Even if you can only spare an hour a month, you'll be helping out the teacher - and demonstrating to him or her that you consider yourself a part of the educational team.

If volunteering isn't practical, consistently reinforcing classroom messages and lessons at home can be just as helpful and supportive. Look for ways to incorporate lessons learned in the classroom with day-to-day home life. For example, when your child studies weights and measures, involve him in food prep and use cooking as a way to practice measuring techniques. When your child learns about government and voting, take her with you to the polls so she can see the voting process.

"It's important for all of us to show teachers how much we value their commitment and contribution to our communities," Corcoran says. "Keeping teachers well-supplied and reinforcing classroom lessons are great ways for parents to help teachers make a difference - and ensure their kids get the education they need."

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Teaching Kids to Be Responsible Pet Owners

September 6, 2013 6:12 pm

Family Features—While it may feel like your children will never stop asking for a pet, there are a number of positive reasons for bringing one into your home. In addition to the love and companionship a pet brings, having one can be a great way to teach children accountability.

At first glance, children may not see the work involved in pet ownership. But teaching children interactive ways to care for their new-found friend can evoke a sense of pride and responsibility that is hard to find in other daily activities. Here are some tips to make these lessons fun and easy for kids.

Teach animal needs: Pets need many of the same things humans need, like food, water and shelter. Break it down for kids to understand that in order to keep their new friend healthy, they need to help provide these needs, and that certain rules must be followed.

Make cleaning a routine: A healthy, clean environment is a must for pets of all shapes and sizes. Divide responsibilities and enlist each child with different duties, such as making sure food and water bowl areas, cages and litter boxes are maintained and clean.

Create a fun feeding chart: Just like breakfast or after-school snacks, animals also need nourishment throughout the day. Develop a pet feeding schedule with your children so they understand the importance of specific times for feeding. A weekly chart on the wall is a fun way to keep track of the meals. Simply decorate a dry erase board and make sure you have plenty of animal stickers and brightly colored markers on hand.

Give them attention: Pets require plenty of attention. From daily affection to regular exercise, setting aside time to play and interact with your pet should not be forgotten.

Make a special pet spot: Just like their owners, pets love to have their own special area to relax. Let the kids pick out the accessories for their new friend -- be it a hot pink puppy bed or coastal-inspired sea décor for the bottom of the fish bowl. If your friend is feline, remember they require a special litter area. Making sure this area is maintained with the proper products is an important way to keep your cat happy.

Practice pet ownership: If your family doesn't own a pet yet consider practicing pet ownership. Ask neighbors or family if you can pet-sit for a weekend. With your child in charge of taking care of the animal, they'll see firsthand whether they are up to the task. You will also be able to gauge if it is a proper decision for you as a family.

Following these tips can ensure pets are getting the best care possible, while also teaching kids key life skills. Your kids will enjoy proving they are responsible, dependable members of the family.

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Word of the Day

September 6, 2013 6:12 pm

Graduated payment mortgage.  Mortgage loan for which the initial payments are low but increase over the life of the loan.

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Q: Is a Home Equity Line of Credit Similar to a Second Mortgage?

September 6, 2013 6:12 pm

A: A home equity loan, like a second mortgage, lets you tap up to about 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus your current mortgage balance. But because it is set up as a line of credit, you will not be charged interest until you actually make a withdrawal against the loan, although you will be responsible for paying closing costs.

The withdrawals can be made gradually as you begin to pay contractors and suppliers for handling your remodeling project.

The interest rates on these loans are usually variable.  Of particular importance: make sure you understand the terms of the loan. If, for example, your loan requires that you pay interest only for the life of the loan, you will have to pay back the full amount borrowed at the end of the loan period or risk losing your home.

 

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