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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: How Can I Finance Work Needed on a Fixer-upper?

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

A: According to the Millennial Housing Commission, few lenders are willing to administer home improvement loans. Most prefer to make home equity loans or unsecured consumer loans because they are easier to manage.  Home improvement loans usually require inspections and irregular draws on the loan amount as work is completed, which requires regional or national lenders to find local partners to provide oversight.

Financing repairs and improvements with home equity is okay for most homeowners, but it is difficult for many first-time buyers.  They have lower-incomes, smaller savings, and have made lower down payments on their homes than first-time buyers a decade ago.  So they have little equity to borrow against.  Unfortunately, it is often lower cost older homes purchased by first-time buyers that need the most work.

Unless you have a cash reserve, you will have to shop around for the best borrowing terms. In addition to the options listed above, you can ask relatives for a loan.  Borrow against your whole life insurance policy. Refinance your existing mortgage and take out cash.  Get a second mortgage.  Contact the government about home improvement programs.  And – as a last resort – borrow from a finance agency, which generally charge high rates.

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Word of the Day

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

Semi-detached.  One structure containing two dwelling units separated vertically by a common wall.

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4 Self-Publishing Tips for Authors

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

The number of self-published books has exploded, growing 287 percent since 2006, according to research by Bowker, the official ISBN agency for the United States.

“In 2012, more than 235,000 print and e-books were self-published in the United States, up from 148,424 in 2011,” says award-winning marketing strategist Catherine Foster, executive publisher/CEO of BlueSky Publishing Partner.

“This is an exciting time to be an author because the playing field is finally leveled – you can get your book published! You don’t have to beg an agent to take you on and you don’t have to deal with those heartbreaking rejection letters. There’s no longer a stigma associated with self-publishing -- in fact, many of my authors say it’s the very best option.”

CreateSpace was the No. 1 print self-publisher in 2011 with 39 percent of the market, and Smashwords was No. 1 for e-books, with 47 percent, according to Bowker’s most recent information.

However, while most readers no longer pay attention to where a book was published, authors should know they do pay attention to what it looks like, Foster says.

“The most important overlooked element is not the front cover but the back cover,” she says. “That’s where potential readers will spend the most time deciding if they want to buy your book.”

Browsers spend 10 to 15 seconds reading the back cover. If you want to keep their interest, Foster says follow these four basic rules of book marketing.”

• Know your audience: You have to consider their point of view when you decide what to say on the back cover, and you need to know who they are in order to figure that out. This is your 10-second commercial, so be sure you give your audience what they’re looking for!

• Keep it simple: Many authors try to cram too much information on the back cover in the hopes that something will pique the reader’s interest. But too much information overwhelms browsers and their brain becomes sluggish. Rather than read everything, they read nothing and walk away. Treat the text on your back cover like poetry and keep the message condensed and poignant.

• Choose the right fonts: Certain font styles appeal to different audience demographics. Whether your audience is mostly teens or college students, middle-aged adults or seniors, they’ll respond differently to the looks of different type faces. Choosing small red fonts on your cover is the worst thing you can do if your market is the reader older than 55 because red is one of the hardest colors to read when aging affects vision. Also, your fonts shouldn’t blend in with the colors on your back cover, or the words lose value to the reader.

• Typos will kill your book sale: If your back cover has a typo, even a small one such as a redundant word or two words with no space between them, it will doom your book. Authors are indeed “judged like a book by its cover” and readers will assume that your book wasn’t edited and that it will be full of errors. One of the most frustrating things for readers is finding typos in a book. It dilutes the meaning of the content, distracts them from reading, and most importantly, makes the author look amateurish. Even if the only typo in your book is the one on your back cover, readers will make critical assumptions based on that one fatal flaw.  

Foster recommends having your book professionally edited, cover to cover. If you can’t afford to do that, at least find a friend or family member with strong reading and writing skills to read it for you.

“No matter how good of an editor you are, you’re likely to read right over your own mistakes,” Foster says. “There’s a reason surgeons don’t operate on themselves; the same is true for authors editing themselves.

For more information, visit www.blueskybooksandmedia.com.

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Looking for a Greener Way to Clean your Pool?

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

(BPT) - There's no better way to enjoy the summer than by lounging by the pool. Unfortunately, this backyard family oasis requires regular maintenance throughout the summer that can include expensive and sometimes unhealthy chemicals. Have you ever wished there was an easier way you could clean your pool, that was also more eco-friendly?

Just as there are now "greener" choices for many consumer products, there are now some great alternatives for keeping your pool clean that are easier and actually help minimize chemicals and additives. Technology has come a long way, and consumers can now choose from a variety of affordable and more environmentally friendly ways to maintain their backyard pool.

But how do you choose the right one? Here are some of the best pool-cleaning options available today, along with their pluses and minuses:

Manual pole cleaning: For years this was the standard. Lots of sweat, a hose attached to the skimmer basket on one end, a long vacuum pole on the other and a lot of slow pushing as you try not to disturb the debris before you suck it up into the skimmer and filtration system. This method is cheap and "somewhat green" but involves a lot of effort, and it is not highly effective at reducing your chemical usage.

Suction side pool cleaning: The suction side method is similar to the mechanics of manual pole cleaning except that the cleaner is self-propelled in a random pattern by a suction hose attached to the skimmer system. A completely clean pool is not always achieved due to the random nature of the system.

The pluses: low cost and satisfactory results.
The minuses: the method lacks optimal pool floor and wall scrubbing and does minimal water mixing, leaving stagnant water areas that actually demand more chemicals to stay clean. Suction side cleaners also use more energy as they require your pool's filter pump to run during their cleaning cycle.

Pressure side pool cleaning: These units require an independent booster pump and water jet outlet found on some in-ground pools. Note: This is the only option not available for above-ground pools. Pressure cleaners are propelled by water and are often confused with robotic cleaners, but the differences are important. Pressure cleaners do a good job of cleaning but are costly to buy and run.
The pluses: cleaning capabilities and better water-mixing capabilities than suction side cleaners.
The minuses: pressure cleaners are costly to buy and operate and they use the most energy due to the added booster pump.

Robotic pool cleaning: Advances in robotic pool cleaners are transforming the pool-cleaning industry. Robotic technology has advanced, bringing the price in reach of almost all pool owners. Robotic units can scrub and vacuum pool floors, walls and the waterline and remove more and finer debris (down to two microns in size) to help keep your pool cleaner. Robotic units cost only about 5 cents per hour to run and they provide superior water mixing (up to 85 GPM), substantially reducing the amount of chemicals needed.
The pluses: Just plug the bot into the power supply, place the cleaner in the water and press a button.
The minuses: There are almost too many robotic cleaners to choose from and they are not all alike. One of the most innovative is Aquabot, made by the company that introduced the first robotic cleaner in 1982.

Keeping your pool sparkling clean doesn't have to mean long afternoons of work or extra unnecessary chemicals. Now that there are safer and easier cleaning methods, you'll be able to maintain and enjoy your backyard retreat, and take care of the environment at the same time.

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Easy Exterior and Interior Painting Tips

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

(Family Features)—The task of home painting projects may seem daunting, but by following a few helpful steps you can give your home a fresh, clean appearance and incorporate some of your favorite new home décor trends.

“Whether your painting projects call for sprucing up your indoor space or freshening up outdoor trim, a little advance planning, sweat equity and the right tools can go a long way in ensuring a professional looking result,” said Carmen De La Paz, designer and former host of HGTV’s Hammer Heads.

De La Paz offers these tips to help you paint like a pro.

Start with the Right Tools

Whether working on interior or exterior projects, be sure to use the right tools – especially the appropriate tape – to ensure a professional looking result.  For indoor projects, make sure you read the label to find a tape that is appropriate for the surface you are working on and that has EdgeLock technology to ensure sharp, clean lines. For exterior projects, ScotchBlue has an Exterior Painter’s Tape specifically designed for exterior paint jobs and is resistant to sun, wind and moisture.

Tips for Exquisite Exteriors

With its exposure to the elements and various surface types, exterior painting has its list of challenges. Here are a few tips to make outdoor painting a breeze:

  • Always use the appropriate nap, or thickness of a roller, for the surface you are painting.  Some surfaces, like stucco, tend to have a rougher texture, so be sure to use a thick nap roller to help pull paint in and out of crevices. This will save time and frustration.
  • Remember to pick paint designed for the surface being painted. For example, choose masonry or stucco paint for outdoor projects, or paint that is compatible with wood or metal when painting other exterior surfaces. Remember, outdoor elements will influence how well paint sticks to a surface; some surfaces will even reject the wrong paint. You can avoid this by using the right paint from the start.   
  • Be sure to “back prime” any newly installed woodwork. This means you should prime and seal the whole board before installing it. This will protect the backboard from moisture and prevent bloating and cracking once new woodwork is applied.

Ideas for Impressive Interiors

When approaching interior projects, use these tips to make them flawless:

  • When painting big surfaces, such as a wall, use a roller and paint in “X” and “W” patterns for even distribution of paint. This helps you avoid “lap marks” where paint builds up thicker in some areas due to overlapping.
  • When using a brush, load your brush and start by painting strokes in the middle of the paint area – working your way to the edges. The goal is to lightly whisk the paint on. The brush has more paint on it than you think, so let the brush do the work.  
  • If your painting job is ongoing, don’t wash the brushes. Instead, put them back in their bags and keep in the freezer overnight. Then, pull the brushes out about 15 minutes before you plan to use them again and you’re ready to go. This saves time and water for brushes that are already in great working condition.

You’ll be amazed by how beautiful your home can be when you take the time to tackle those painting projects and do it right. Incorporating these tips into your painting routine will get you painting like a pro in no time.

Source: visit www.scotchblue.com.

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Protect Property and Assets from Storms

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

In our previous report, your RIS Consumer Confidant introduced some stormy predictions regarding the upcoming and potentially severe hurricane season. According to Chicago-based Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), leading weather researchers are forecasting an active hurricane season.

With that in mind, PCI spokesman Chris Hackett provides homeowners these tips to help protect property and assets from becoming a storm casualty:

1. Inventory household items now to speed up claims processing after the storm - photograph or videotape them for further documentation. Keep this information and all insurance policies in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box.

2. Keep a copy of insurance policies and other important papers with them in a watertight package, along with contact info for you insurance company and agent.

3. Develop an emergency plan - emergency planners suggest discussing hazards that could affect families and consider a home's vulnerability to storm surge, flooding and wind. Determine escape routes from the home and establish a meeting place. Stock non-perishable emergency supplies and a disaster supply kit with enough food and water for three to seven days. Listen carefully to local authorities and take the necessary precautions to protect life, safety and property. If given an order to evacuate because of threatening weather conditions, do so. Contact a friend or family member and give that person your contact information. Remember to shut off the home’s water and electricity and to lock all doors and windows.

4. Perform routine home maintenance now to avoid major repairs later. Mitigation is a critical component in reducing the amount of damage that may occur when a hurricane or tropical storm makes landfall. Most structural problems and weaknesses can also be identified and corrected before major damage occurs.

5. Protect property by covering all windows with plywood or shutters, moving vehicles into the garage when possible and placing grills and patio furniture indoors. Make sure watercrafts are stored in a secure area, like a garage or covered boat dock.

For more information, visit www.pciaa.net.

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Q: Can I Contest My Property Taxes?

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

A: Many people do, mainly because determining value can often be tricky.  This is especially true in a changing market when local prices either take off dramatically or plunge precipitously, like during the Texas oil bust of the 1980s.

While it is up to a professional assessor to evaluate property value for tax purposes, property owners are usually allowed to contest their assessment until a certain date after they are made public.

Once you contest, you will have to prove why you think your property is worth less – few homeowners contest hoping to pay more taxes!  The two most popular ways for determining value are an appraisal and a comparative market analysis.  With an appraisal, a professional estimates the property's market value based on recent sales of comparable properties.  A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value performed by a real estate agent based on similar sales and property attributes. Most agents will offer free analyses to win your business.

Contact your local tax assessor's office for procedures on appealing your property tax assessment.

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Word of the Day

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

Special assessment.  A special tax imposed on specific parcels of real estate that will benefit from a proposed public improvement, such as a street or sewer.

 

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Top Five Summer Home Maintenance Tips

May 23, 2013 6:20 pm

(Tampa, FL)---The warmer weather has us all heading outside to soak up the sun, but it’s also a good reminder to take care of some basic things around your house. Pillar To Post is the leading home inspection company in North America, according to Entrepreneur Magazine. With more than 400 locations in the U.S. and Canada, Pillar To Post provides real estate agents and homeowners, the most professional inspectors and the most comprehensive inspection reports in the industry. Here are their top five home maintenance tips for the warmer months:

Inspect air-conditioners: If you have central air, you’ll want to clean the exterior condenser unit and all of its components, removing debris and trimming back any plants that are growing near it. You should also rinse down the interior of the unit, straighten out bent fins and lubricate the motor. You’ll also want to clean or change the air filters, inspect the drain line for debris and make sure all hoses fit securely. You can do this all yourself with guidance from the unit’s owners’ manual or call in a professional. If you have window units, the job is a little bit easier. You simply have to install the units and clean the filters. This is also a good time to deep clean all the fans and ceiling fans in your home.

Mulch: adding a layer of mulch to gardens and other non-grassy areas helps prevent weeds. It also helps the soil to hold moisture and nutrients during the warmer months, giving your plants a better chance of growing.

Inspect for leaks: Checking exterior hoses and faucets for leaks can lead to big savings. Even a small leak can cost big bucks. Many small leaks can be fixed with a piece of electrical tape. You’ll want to call in an expert for larger leaks.

Clean siding: Avoid streaks by applying the cleaner starting at the bottom and working your way up and rinsing from the top down. Cleaning your home’s siding yearly can help prevent mold, mildew and staining. It also keeps it looking brand new, adding value to your home.

Inspect your crawlspace: check for signs of termites and moisture. Even floors that appear dry can be damp. Dampness can cause damage to the entire house. If you have a dirt floor, installing a vapor barrier is recommended. If you have concrete, sealing it is ideal. This annual check is also a great time to check sewer lines, particularly beneath toilets and sinks, for evidence of leaks.

Founded in 1994, Pillar To Post is now the largest home inspection company in North America with over 400 franchisees, located in 47 states and 8 Canadian provinces. The company expects to open a total of 75 new locations by the end of 2013; long-term plans include adding 500-600 new franchisees over the next five years.

For more information,  visit www.pillartopostfranchise.com.

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Meditation for Health

May 23, 2013 6:20 pm

There have been countless anecdotal claims about the benefits of practicing meditation since the Eastern tradition has become more popular in the West. Now, there’s plenty of Western-based scientific evidence to support them, says Dr. Matt Mumber, a radiation oncologist and co-director of a non-profit integrative oncology program.

“Meditation is to the brain what physical activity is to the body. We’ve found meditation to be an important facet of health care, both for prevention and maintenance as well as in the treatment of disease, including cancer,” says Dr. Mumber, co-author with colleague and Yoga instructor Heather Reed of “Sustainable Wellness: An Integrative Approach to Transform Your Mind, Body, and Spirit.”

Mumber and Reed, who are co-facilitators of non-profit residential retreats for cancer patients, say one can experience sustainable wellness by developing a life practice grounded in the cultivation of awareness. This awareness is paying attention without attachment. The ability to be aware can be increased by a meditation tool called mindfulness.

“Life is a constant series of adjustments, matching your inner being with your outer doing,” Reed says. “One way to heighten your awareness is through practicing meditation.”

Mumber and Reed say there’s plenty of new evidence that the resulting sense of balance and peace is not just a psychological effect:

• Mindfulness meditation leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density: Recently published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, shows that measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress occurred with study participants who meditated for 30 minutes a day for eight weeks.

• Meditation practitioners have longer attention spans: Published by the journal PloS Biology, a study analyzed people with three months of rigorous training and found that they gained a drastically improved attention span – not only longer, but less susceptible to internal or external distraction. They also showed improved memory and enhanced performance in several tasks, from driving a car to playing piano.

• Reduces stress and blood pressure: Presented to the American Heart Association by researchers at the at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, a study including 200 high-risk patients for heart attack found that meditation reduced their chances for heart attack by 50 percent.

“Studies involving people seeking to reduce stress and other problems in their lives via meditation will continue, as well as for those who want to enhance performance of various duties,” Mumber says.

“For those skeptical of the medical benefits of this Eastern practice, there’s now plenty of Western proof.”

For more information, visit www.sustainablewellnessonline.com.

 

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