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Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Tom's Blog

Word of the Day

March 1, 2013 3:48 pm

Interest. A fee paid for the use of money; also a share or right in something.
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Q: How Much Can I Expect to Spend on Maintenance?

March 1, 2013 3:48 pm

A: One percent of the purchase price of your home every year to cover everything from painting to repairing gutters to caulking windows and maintaining routine system repairs and maintenance. An older home may require more maintenance, although much will depend on how well it has been maintained over the years. Take the upkeep seriously, and budget accordingly. Otherwise, your home’s value could suffer if you allow it to fall into a state of disrepair. Remember, too, that the cost of good home maintenance is usually minor compared to what it will cost to remedy a situation that you allowed to get progressively worse. For example, unclogging and sealing gutters may cost a few hundred dollars. But repairing damage to a corner of your home where gutters have leaked can potentially cost several thousand dollars.
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5 Tips to Keep Kids Safe Online

February 28, 2013 3:46 pm

The Internet offers a wonderful new world for children who can read and write – from fine educational materials to a wealth of fun games to a new way of keeping in touch. But access to the online world brings with it new risks to a child’s physical and emotional safety. How can a parent help their kids stay safe?

Primarily, say the editors at Scholastic Magazine, by setting rules, being a good role model, and communicating on a daily basis.

Scholastic staffers offer five tips for providing children and teens with a safer online experience:

Limit usage –
Give your child limited free online time to play games, instant-message friends or visit social networking sites – perhaps 30 minutes after school before homework begins. Make it a rule that family time starts with dinner. After that, the computer is an IM-free zone, to be used only for homework purposes.
Keep kids in sight - Have the computer centrally located. Your child is less likely to browse questionable content if she knows Mom or Dad (or brother/sister) might walk by at any second. This helps you monitor the time spent online as well as the sites visited.
Do your homework – Check the browser history to know where your child goes online. Check unknown sites for content. Use security tools and privacy features offered by your Internet service provider or purchased separately for extra protection.
Communicate openly - One out of every five kids gets sexual solicitations online. Strangers, predators, and cyber-bullies also target children. Talk to your kids about the need for not revealing name, age, gender, or hometown online – because if posts aren't marked as private, personal information is displayed to unrestricted audiences. Be sure your kids understand how important it is to communicate only with people they know.
Set a code of conduct and content – Set strict guidelines about suitable language, content, and behavior online. While it's important to direct kids to suitable websites, it's even more valuable to help them think critically about the content they read and see. Surfing the Web without restrictions can bring pop-up ads, viruses, erroneous information, and inappropriate content – and the ease of cutting and pasting means plagiarism can be a real concern when doing homework. Set strict guidelines and follow up to see that they are being followed.
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As Housing Market Warms, Keep These Buying Tips in Mind

February 28, 2013 3:46 pm

(BPT) - Ready to buy your first home, or move up to a larger home for your expanding family?
Home sales seem to be finally warming up after a five-year chill, as demand gradually builds among first-time homebuyers and existing homeowners seeking more room. Historically low mortgage rates, rising rents and relatively positive economic indicators are enhancing consumer confidence and driving the trend, according to the National Association of REALTORS(NAR).

As demand grows, home prices for a median existing home are expected to rise as much as 5 percent nationwide in 2013, according to the NAR. This should encourage existing homeowners who've been patiently sitting on the sidelines to consider putting their homes on the market.

Even though the outlook is looking brighter, Daniel Watkins, an attorney who specializes in real estate law at the Watkins Firm, APC in San Diego, says the hurdles to buying a home in today's market are significantly higher than they were a few years ago.

"The big hurdle is financing. Expectations among lenders and sellers are a lot higher today," Watkins says. "If you're serious about buying a home, you need to have a sizeable down payment, a good credit score, low debt and a solid track record of employment to qualify for a loan."

Lenders are paying close attention to buyers' ability to repay a loan, according to FindLaw.com, the nation's leading legal information website. The generally accepted principle is that no more than 30 percent of a household's take-home income should go toward the principal, interest, taxes and insurance.

Here are some tips from FindLaw.com about buying a home within the next six to nine months:
  • Start planning now. Even if you're a year or more away from buying a home, start preparing now. Build up your cash for a down payment plus other expenses that come with owning a home. Check your credit report for accuracy. Pay all your bills on time and zero out all credit card debt. And don't take on new debt, like a large car payment.
  • Get a pre-approval letter. Home sellers want to know that you can get a loan to buy their home. It's OK to window shop, but don't make any offers unless you are certain you can obtain financing. After shopping around for a financial institution, get pre-approved for a home mortgage. Showing a seller a pre-approval letter will increase your chances of your offer being accepted. And don't be surprised if the seller or his real estate agent contacts your loan officer to verify that you've been pre-approved.
  • Build a strong buying position. As the home market warms up, bidding wars will become more common. However, the highest bid doesn't always win in today's housing market. Instead, home sellers want to know the deal will go through with smooth sailing. So, today, the highest value is being placed on non-contingent offers (not contingent on the sale of your home), pre-approved financing, higher-than-normal earnest money deposit and personalized bids (share with the seller why the home would be a perfect match for you and your family).
  • Get a lawyer. In some states, the law requires that a real estate attorney be part of the process of making an offer and reviewing loan documents as part of the closing, according to FindLaw.com. Where a real estate attorney isn't required, buyers and sellers should consider seeking legal assistance for relatively more complicated real estate transactions, such as purchasing a property directly from the homeowner, the purchase of a rental property, a short sale or the purchase of a foreclosed property.
  • Learn about the neighborhood. When you buy a home, you're also buying into a community. Start your home search by first targeting a neighborhood where you want to live. Avoid neighborhoods where homes are not being kept up, or yards are full of old cars and junk. Check out the schools, too. Great schools attract families, and keep up home values. Avoid busy streets, homes under flight patterns or near railroad tracks. And contact the local police department for crime statistics and the location of nearby sex offenders.
  • Keep your emotions in check. If you've found a home you like, don't fall in love with it yet. Make sure your offer is contingent upon a satisfactory home inspection conducted by an inspector that you hire (not the seller).
  • Save some extra money. Whether you're buying your first home or your third, moving and getting a household established can cost more than you anticipated. Make sure you save enough extra money to redecorate your new home to fit your lifestyle, and to pay for unexpected repairs.
For more information, visit www.findlaw.com.
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Helping with Homework When Homework’s Too Hard

February 28, 2013 3:46 pm

You’ve probably seen a television ad for a national chain of tutoring centers: an older boy has a question about his math homework, but his mother takes one horrified look at the textbook and runs out of the house, straight to a tutoring center. Surely there’s a different, less-costly and more immediately-helpful response. But when the homework’s too hard—even for you—what else can you do?

First off, set some mental parameters for yourself.

• Shake off your own memories of freshman algebra or English 101 and focus on your child, not yourself.
• Make the quite reasonable assumption that the work really isn’t too hard for your child. Your kid is smart enough right? She does okay in other things, right? She can get this.
• Understand that it’s okay that you don’t have all the answers. You can learn along with your child. In doing so, you demonstrate how to tackle tough assignments and plow through to success.
• Do not transfer your dislike for a subject or your helplessly confused feelings to your child. Don’t be like the mother in that ad.

Second, follow some specific steps when your child throws down his pencil and yells for your help.
1. Make time for hard stuff. Set the hard work aside, do the other homework and reserve an hour or two for the tricky thing. Just doing this takes some pressure off and opens up the space for thinking. Putting the work aside for a while calms the head and also lets the unconscious brain come up with answers.
2. Read through the assignment directions or problem together. What is asked for? Where is the disconnect between what your child understands and what she’s expected to know or do?
3. Read through the chapter together. You can read it aloud, stopping to discuss the text with your child. Realize that most likely the key to the homework’s solution is in the text.
4. Read through the assignment directions or problem again. Does the assignment remind you of anything you just read together from the text? Is it clearer now what the child needs to do? If not, where is the disconnect? Go back and figure things out.
5. By now, things should be pretty clear. If they’re still not clear, now is the time to act. Activate your school’s homework hotline or call the reference desk at your local public library. Dial up a friend from class and see how he’s managing this assignment. The reason for waiting to activate these “lifelines” is this: now your child will be able to evaluate the suggestions he gets and understand how they are reasonable or off-base. He will be able to talk intelligently about the assignment and the content it represents. Even if your child doesn’t wind up doing the assignment correctly, he will understand the correct solution once he gets it.

One word of caution. Often, halfway through these steps, a child will say, “Oh, I get it!” and dismiss you from the homework table. This might be because he doesn’t want you to help anymore or because he really has figured it out. Either way, this is your cue to say, “Fine! Let me know if you need me later….” and get out of the way.

And a second caution. Resist the impulse to check your child’s work. If she asks you to, that’s fine, but only point out where you think she might have taken a wrong turn. Don’t actually fix her answers. And if she doesn’t ask you to check her work, don’t do it. This is her work, not yours.

Your role here is not one of supplying the answers. You don’t need to know anything about the subject at all. And getting everything right in the homework is not so important as understanding how to tackle tough assignments and get them done.

Your role is to be a calm supporter, who works alongside the child in figuring things out.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson.

For more information, visit www.swparents.com.
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Word of the Day

February 28, 2013 3:46 pm

Installment payment. Periodic payment, usually monthly, of interest and principal on a mortgage or other loan.
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Q: Are There Routine Steps I Can Take Now to Avoid Major Home Improvements Later?

February 28, 2013 3:46 pm

A: Get in the habit of taking an annual inventory of every single space in your home to check for potential problems. Examine the roof, foundation, plumbing, electrical wiring – basically everything. Try to fix trouble spots as soon as you uncover them. This proactive approach will help you avoid major repairs to your home later.
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98 Ice Storm Data Still Serving Snowbound Homeowners

February 27, 2013 5:44 pm

Fifteen years ago last month, a massive ice storm hit parts of Canada. I recently learned that the country's national housing agency, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), used data gathered from that historic storm to develop a number of guidelines for property owners that folks anywhere should consider.

First and foremost, the report recommends homeowners determine the balance between removing roof ice and damaging their roof. Tools, such as hammers, shovels, scrapers, chain saws, and devices such as shoes with ice spikes can damage roofing materials or the structure below.

And chemical de-icers can discolor shingles, break down membranes and corrode flashings and drains. De-icers can also damage plants on the ground.

According to the data, the first line of defense is carefully monitoring your roof during an ice storm emergency:

First: Observe and evaluate the situation every day. Is the ice causing a structural problem? Is there water damage? Do you have to do anything?

Second: Evaluate your capabilities and limits. Do you have the equipment, the agility and the help to work safely and efficiently? If you don’t, get professional help before the situation becomes urgent.

Third: To prevent damage, do as little as possible. Total clearing has the greatest potential for damage to the roof and to people and property below. Often, clearing dangerous overhangs and icicles and making drainage paths is enough.

To promote drainage on a sloped roof, the report points out that your goal is to make drainage paths through ice on lower edges of a roof because that’s where most ice dam and water back-up problems occur. Always shovel off loose snow first to expose the ice.

Finally, the report reminds property owners that removing ice mechanically from a sloped roof is always dangerous — both for the person doing it and for the roof. If you are not careful, removing ice can invalidate your shingle warranty. If ice must be removed, the CMHC recommends to have it done by a professional with proper equipment and training.
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Car Care Council Tips Help Save Money as Gas Prices near $4

February 27, 2013 5:44 pm

Consumers' pain at the pump is back with gas prices rising for 33 consecutive days according to the Washington Post and the average price of gas moving closer to or exceeding $4 per gallon, depending on your location. While you can’t combat the rising prices, you can maintain your vehicle to make the most out of your mileage. A few simple and inexpensive vehicle maintenance tips can help alleviate the pain.

"You can't control the price of gas, but you can control how much gas you burn by performing proper maintenance and how you drive. Performing simple and inexpensive maintenance can save as much as $1,200 per year in gas costs," says Rich White , executive director, Car Care Council.

The Car Care Council offers these gas-saving maintenance tips:

  • Keep your car properly tuned to improve gas mileage by an average of 4 percent.
  • Keep tires properly inflated and improve gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent.
  • Replace dirty or clogged air filters and improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent.
  • Improve gas mileage by 1-2 percent by using the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil.

Driving behavior also impacts fuel efficiency. The council offers these gas saving driving tips:

  • Observe the speed limit. Gas mileage decreases rapidly above 50 mph. Each 5 mph over 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.25 per gallon for gas, according to www.fueleconomy.gov.
  • Avoid excessive idling. Idling gets zero miles per gallon. Warming up the vehicle for one or two minutes is sufficient.
  • Avoid quick starts and stops. Aggressive driving can lower gas mileage by 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent in the city.
  • Consolidate trips. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much gas as one longer multi-purpose trip.
  • Don't haul unneeded items in the trunk. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk reduces fuel economy up to 2 percent.
Source: www.carcare.org.
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Five Easy Tips to Motivate Your Child to Read

February 27, 2013 5:44 pm

It’s almost here! Read Across America Day on March 1, 2013, is the largest celebration of reading in the country and a reminder that reading never goes out of style—even as books make a move from paper to tablet.

Reading is an important part of childhood development, and should extend beyond the classroom.
Not sure where to start, or how to get your child involved?

In celebration of the National Education Association's Read Across America program, Sylvan Learning is offering five simple tips to jump-start reading in your family and inspire children to develop a lifelong friendship with the written word.

Make it A Habit

Depending on your family's schedule, reading time might be in the morning, afternoon or before bed. Whatever time you choose, stick to it! Consistency is key to building good habits.

Don't Leave Home without It
Bring reading tools with you wherever you go. Having a book, e-book or tablet handy at all times will help your child fit in reading at every chance he gets.

Change Screen Time to Reading Time

Prioritize reading as a free-time activity on a tablet instead of playing a video game or watching TV. Download an audio book or a series of e-books for your child's leisure reading.

Share the Joy of Reading

Reading doesn't have to be a chore. It can be a fun activity. When children are pressured they may read only to please their parents. It is important to help your child find books at the appropriate reading level on subjects that interest them. Once you find books that can pique your child's interest, you may find her reading ahead on her own.

Spice It Up
Any subject, no matter how interested your child is in that subject, can begin to feel dry if you focus all of your attention upon it. Offering a variety of texts is especially helpful: read non-fiction, stories, fables, mysteries and also newspapers, e-books and magazines.

"Encouraging children to read helps transform reading from a chore to a treat. Then, this basic skill becomes a learned behavior and an intellectual habit. Among reading's benefits, many research studies have found that children who are read to or who read on their own at home do better in school," says Richard E. Bavaria, Ph.D., senior vice president of education outreach for Sylvan Learning.

Source: www.sylvanlearning.com.
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