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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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Tom's Blog

9 Ways to Avoid Food Poisoning

August 5, 2013 10:02 pm

If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you know how unpleasant it can be. But you may not know how easy it is to put people at risk, even in your own home, and especially during warm weather.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers nine household tips for avoiding the food contamination that causes food poisoning and related illnesses:

  1. Wash your hands – Before you handle any food, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water. If you go handle raw meat, go to the toilet, or pause to play with pets, wash your hands again before you go back to food preparation.
  2. Keep work tops sanitary – Wash counter tops and cutting boards with soapy hot water or an antibacterial sanitizer before and after handling food, especially raw meat, fish, eggs, or veggies that have not yet been scrubbed.
  3. Wash cloths frequently – Damp, dirty dishcloths and hand towels are a perfect place for bacteria to breed. Wash and dry them after using before using them again.
  4. Keep raw meat separate – Raw meat can contaminate other foods, including fruits, salads and vegetables. Store it on the bottom shelf of the fridge, where it can’t drip onto other foods, and keep it separate from other foods during meal preparation.
  5. Use care with spoilable foods – Mayonnaise and eggs left unrefrigerated for long periods are a proven food poisoning danger. On picnics or in the backyard, keep them cool until consumed and/or throw away leftovers that may have warmed.
  6. Cook food thoroughly – Make sure meats and poultry are fully cooked through and piping hot when served, with little or no pink color showing.
  7. Cool leftovers quickly – Cool leftovers within 90 minutes of eating, and store in the fridge or freezer. Use refrigerated leftovers within two days.
  8. Keep your fridge cold – Bacteria can grow, even in the fridge, if the temperature is over 5 degrees Celsius or 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid keeping the doors open for long periods and check the temperature with a thermometer from time to time.
  9. Respect ‘use-by’ dates – Tests show how quickly bacteria can contaminate foods that are past their prime. Consume packaged and bottled goods by or before the use-by date to avoid possible problems.
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What Is a Voidable Contract?

August 5, 2013 10:02 pm

Even if a contract exists, it may not necessarily be enforceable. There are a number of reasons why a court might not enforce a contract. Often, it's to protect people from unfairness in the bargaining process, or in the substance of the contract itself. In such circumstances, a contract may be voidable.

But what is a voidable contract?

Voidable Contracts

When a contract is voidable, a party to the contract is able to cancel or revoke the contract.

Contracts can become voidable due to:

  • Mistake. A contract can be canceled on the grounds of a mutual mistake of fact. But remember, failure to read the contract doesn't make a contract voidable.
  • Lack of capacity. A person must have the legal ability to form a contract in the first place. A person who is unable, due to intoxication or mental impairment, to understand what she is doing when she signs a contract may lack capacity to enter into a contract.
  • Coercion, undue influence, misrepresentation and fraud. Getting consent for a contract in a number of shady ways can make a contract voidable. Contracts entered into based on coercion, threats, false statements, or improper persuasion can be voided by the party who was the victim of the unfairness.
  • Minor. Falling under the umbrella of capacity, a contract entered into by a minor typically may be voided by the minor or by his or her guardian. After reaching the age of majority (18 in most states), however, if he or she doesn't cancel the contract within a reasonable period of time, the contract can become binding and enforceable.

Void vs. Voidable

Note, however, that a voidable contract is different from a void contract. Void contracts can't be legally enforced, period. The law treats them as if no agreement was ever made. An agreement to perform an illegal action, for instance, is a void contract. A voidable contract, on the other hand, may be voided by a party if the party so chooses.

Source: FindLaw.com

 

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Why Air Conditioning Costs are Heating Up

August 5, 2013 10:02 pm

BPT—You might wish that summer could go on and on—until it comes time to recharge your air conditioning system. The cost of the common refrigerant R-22 (also known as Freon), widely used in residential air conditioning systems, has already increased by more than 400 percent in the past 18 months and is expected to go even higher, making air conditioning repairs more costly for many.

R-22 has been the refrigerant of choice for residential heat pump and air conditioning systems for more than four decades, but it has been identified as having a negative environmental impact, including contributing to ozone depletion. Under EPA regulations, R-22 is being phased out, with production totally prohibited after 2020.

This has added new considerations for homeowners who are considering whether to repair or replace an air conditioning unit. For instance, some refrigerant manufacturers have begun selling cheaper alternatives to R-22, often referred to as "drop-in" replacement refrigerants. But alternatives are cheaper only in the short run.

"Lennox, one of the leading air conditioning manufacturers, has conducted research that shows these cheaper alternate refrigerants are not compatible with the lubricating oil used in R-22 units," says Dave Moody, director of marketing for Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning. "Recharging older air conditioners with these alternative refrigerants may actually damage the system and void your manufacturer's warranty. As a result, we've instructed our 2,500 technicians to follow the manufacturer's recommendations and use only R-22 when they recharge R-22 systems."

Moody also points out that reclaimed and recycled R-22 is expected to be available to repair existing systems after production ceases in 2020, but as the supply of new R-22 refrigerant continues to be reduced, costs of both new and recycled R-22 refrigerant will increase significantly.

All new air conditioning systems now use a more environmentally friendly refrigerant, R410A.-These newer systems offer many benefits, including greater energy efficiency, longer warranty periods and quieter operation, and may prove to be the wiser investment when homeowners are faced with repairing an older system that uses R-22 refrigerant.

"There is no one-size-fits-all answer about whether to repair or replace your R-22 AC," says Moody. "It really does depend on the individual family, their home, their lifestyle and their budget.”

Source:  www.serviceexperts.com

 

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Word of the Day

August 5, 2013 10:02 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: Will I Be Able to Buy again after Losing a Home to Foreclosure?

August 5, 2013 10:02 pm

A: It can happen.  But a lot will depend on your circumstances and the mortgage interest rate you are willing to pay.  Generally, most lenders will consider your request for a home loan two to four years after your foreclosure.  Predatory lenders will issue a home mortgage in less time.  But beware – they routinely charge high mortgage interest rates, fees, and penalties for this privilege.

A quality lender will expect you to show that you have cleaned up your credit.  Providing a reasonable explanation about the circumstances that led to the foreclosure – such as exuberant medical expenses – is also helpful.

 

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Small Home Improvements That Save Big

August 2, 2013 9:54 pm

Home improvements almost always increase the value of your home. But you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot to get results that will save you big money in the long run.

U.S. News personal finance experts suggest eight budget-friendly but energy efficient fixes guaranteed to be worth more than what they cost:

  • Low-flow fixtures – Easily installed low-flow showerheads, which cost as little as $20 at most home improvement stores, and other low-flow fixtures, can reduce your home water consumption by as much as 50 percent and save you up to $145 annually, according to Energy Star estimates.
  • Programmable thermostats – Used properly, Energy Star reports, these energy-saving devices are more accurate and can save users up to $150 per year
  • Weather stripping – Air escaping from under your doors can account for as much as 30 to 40 percent loss of heat and cooling. Up your comfort and save money with weather stripping materials that start at as little as $5.
  • Ceiling fans – The average ceiling fan, at about $50 in cost, can help keep your home more comfortable while reducing your energy bill by about $15 per year.
  • Insulation – Adding insulation, at about $15 per roll, can reduce energy costs by up to 20 percent, experts say, while keeping your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs – The odd-looking bulbs cost a little more initially than standard bulbs. But they last up to 10 times longer and will save you approximately $6 per year.
  • Tankless water heaters – Tankless options cost a bit more, but will allow users to cut 20 percent off their water bills. They will also last up to 10 years longer than traditional water heaters and will never run out of hot water. Bonus: According to Energy Star, you can get a federal tax rebate if you buy one.
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Post-Recession Optimism Brightens Fall Home & Garden Trends

August 2, 2013 9:54 pm

Lighten up! That’s the buzz phrase for fall as a recovering economy fans a collective determination to put the bad news of recent years – from layoffs to natural disasters – behind us, says Roy Joulus, CEO of the award-winning, design-forward Greenbo, LLC.

“We’ll see an insistence on hope, optimism and joy in the simple things in life reflected in bright, happy colors and clean designs with strong lines,’’ says Joulus, whose innovative new railing flowerbox, Greenbo XL, won the prestigious international Red Dot Design Award for product design in 2012.

As a manufacturer of high-quality products for urban homes, Joulus says he and his team must forecast global style trends two to three years out. That’s why their new line of garden containers is made from sustainable and recyclable materials in uber-upbeat colors, with attached drainage trays that can be mixed and matched for custom color combos.

The Greenbo designers also see a growing demand for products whose form is as appealing as their function. That’s why the Greenbo XL railing planter is a flowerbox “that you don’t have to hide with flowers,’’ Joulus says.

“Consumers’ desire for sustainability and ‘green’ products is only going to continue to grow; in fact, that was one reason we launched our company in 2008 even though the global economy was tanking at the time,” says Joulus. “The interest in gardening will continue to grow, as will demand for high-grade products that can either be recycled or are made from recycled materials.”

The fall colors, which you’ll see in everything from fashion to furniture to the garden, include bright greens, deep fuschia, bright orange, fiery red, ochre yellow and violet. How can you brighten your garden with these colors? Joulus offers some tips:

• Forget terra cotta – use containers that offer a vivid pop of color. Colorful containers add a carefree, cheerful element to any garden – whether it’s a full yard, a patio, a balcony, or a cluster of plants indoors by a south-facing window. “Plastic containers require less watering than terra cotta or unglazed ceramic, but be sure to get a very high-grade plastic,” Joulus says. “Nothing looks worse than plastic that has faded and cracked, which will happen quickly when low-quality plastics are exposed to the elements.” Mix up the colors, just as you would wildflowers in a garden, or use all one color for more impact.”

• Coordinate plant color and pot color. Play with different combinations to see what you like. One extreme is the monochromatic approach – where container and plants are all the same color, although shades may vary. On the other end of the extreme, a “cottage garden” with a jumble of colors (polychrome) will work beautifully, too. You might try pairing containers and plants from opposite sides of the color wheel, such as red and green, violet and yellow, or blue and orange. Or use colors that reside side by side on the color wheel, such as salmon and violet or fuchsia and bright red.

• Create a pattern of repeating colors and textures. Containers and plants with different colors can create an eye-catching display when arranged so that each color repeats at a regular interval.  For instance: blue, purple, violet, green, blue, purple, violet, green. This technique is sometimes used with border plants, or plants in linear beds. The addition of colorful containers heightens the effect and adds to the options for placement. Create a repeating pattern on a railing, along a patio or even using hanging containers.

Roy Joulus is CEO of Greenbo, which was founded with a focus on simplicity, efficiency and innovation in creating urban agricultural products.

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Planning for an American Dream Retirement

August 2, 2013 9:54 pm

It’s no wonder baby boomers worry about outliving their retirement savings. One out of four 65-year-olds today can expect to live past 90, and if they’re married, one of every four will live even longer.

With 10,000 boomers turning 65 every day, it’s a big worry for 26 percent of the U.S. population.

“The biggest concern for boomers is living too long, or getting sick, and running out of money,” says Rao K. Garuda, (www.aca-incorp.com), an engineer-turned-independent financial planning advisor specializing in work with seniors, high net worth business owners, and professionals.

“The average 65-year-old retires today with $500,000 to $1 million in assets, and while that might sound like a lot to a 20-year-old, it isn’t,” Garuda says.

Even if you plan to continue some kind of work post-retirement – as many people do whether because they must or because they enjoy it – it’s imperative to plan ahead for the day you can’t work, he says.

“Equally important, people deserve the freedom to make choices about how they’ll spend their last 20 or 30 years, especially if they’ve spent 45 years going to work every day. That’s part of the American dream,” Garuda says. “And you don’t have to earn a fortune to save a fortune!”

Garuda shares four things everyone should know about preparing for retirement:

• Save first, then spend. Most people spend first, then try to save what’s left, Garuda says. The secret is to make saving first your priority. “The people who save first will always be the people who are employing everyone else!” he says. The more you can save the better, but that will vary at different stages of your life. At the minimum, 10 percent is a good rule of thumb.

• Take advantage of tax-free savings. Taxes are the biggest expense anyone has. Besides federal, state, city and death taxes there are 59 other different ways your money is taxed, Garuda says.
“If you save $1, Uncle Sam will help you by waiting for his cut of that $1. With planning, you can put him on hold for about two generations,” he says.
With tax-free compounding, a relatively small amount of money saved can yield huge returns years from now.

• Decide how you’ll manage risk. There is risk in everything, and Garuda warns that those who simply choose to ignore it do so at their own peril. Others choose to “go broke safely” – they avoid risk to such an extent, they lose money. A good example is people putting all their savings in CDs that pay just 1 percent; since that’s lower than the rate of inflation, they’re losing money. In some cases, people transfer risk to someone else, for instance, when they buy homeowners insurance. Finally, they choose to manage their risk emotionally, psychologically and technically through asset allocation rebalancing and other tools that allow you the amount of risk you’re willing to assume while still providing opportunities for growth.

• Create tax-free income. “My favorite question to ask people is, ‘What have you done to create tax-free income?’ ’’ Garuda says. There are many ways to do this – Roth IRAs, life insurance, tax-free bonds, annuities -- but most involve working with a knowledgeable financial planner. “An indexed life insurance policy is a great one; it protects your money while offering a lot of benefits. But it’s like a Swiss army knife – there are a lot of ways to use it, and most people don’t know how to use it properly,” Garuda says.

Rao K. Garuda, CLU, ChFC, is president and CEO of Associated Concepts Agency, Inc. – “The Missing Piece” of financial planning -- founded in 1978, and a popular speaker at seminars and conferences for financial industry professionals.

 

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Word of the Day

August 2, 2013 9:54 pm

Encroachment. A building or other improvement that extends beyond its boundary and intrudes upon the property of another.

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Q: Who Are the Professionals That Do Home Improvements?

August 2, 2013 9:54 pm

A:  They vary depending on the size and scope of your job.  General contractors are companies or individuals who contract with you to manage all aspects of the project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, obtaining building permits, and supplying materials and labor equipment needed to do the project.  Specialty contractors, on the other hand, are mainly concerned with installing products, such as cabinets and fixtures.  Architects design homes, additions, and major renovations. And design/build contractors basically offer one-stop service, providing design and construction services and overseeing a project from start to finish.

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