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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
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Phone: 215-453-7883
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
Fax: 267-354-6800
email: tom@tomskiffington.com
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Tom's Blog

Q: Who Should Be Called to the Project First, the Contractor or the Architect?

March 12, 2013 5:22 pm

A: Opinions vary about which professional to call first. Some say the architect comes first because “you have to design it before you can build it.” The architect, who is trained to resolve problems creatively, can help define the project in ways that provide meaningful guidance for the design. The architect can also do site studies, help secure planning and zoning approvals, and perform a variety of other pre-design tasks. On the other hand, a contractor will be the one you interact with on a regular basis and the person who will likely be in your home every day, possibly for an extended period depending on the scope of your work. Many contractors have in-house design services, or design/build firms, and can possibly offer better price and integration between design and implementation. Others may have several architects with whom they work directly, which could also provide a smooth integration between design and implementation.
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Word of the Day

March 12, 2013 5:22 pm

Lessor. Someone who rents to another party through a lease; the landlord.
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Signs When You Should Fire Your Financial Advisor

March 12, 2013 5:22 pm

Having a financial advisor can be a great way to protect your assets, whether you’re having them manage your business finances, personal or family finances. However, an irresponsible financial advisor can do more damage than none at all.

Below are a few warning signs that something is wrong with your relationship with your investment professional:
• Your advisor does not return your phone calls.
• The transactions on your statements don't make sense to you.
• Your account statements include transactions you did not authorize.
• You find unidentifiable debits or credits on monthly account statements.
• You see a dramatic drop in value of stock in a short period of time.
• The market is "up," but you're losing money.
• The majority of investments recommended by the broker are declining in value.
• Your broker tells you to view market news as entertainment.
• Your broker fails to disclose important information regarding an investment purchase.
• Your broker begins trading in high risk and speculative investments.
• You are paying capital gains taxes, despite the fact that your account value is decreasing.
• Financial results are markedly different from publicly announced expectations.
These warnings signs do not necessarily mean you are a victim of fraud, but there are other rules that may also protect you, such as those pertaining to sustainability.
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Do's and Don'ts for Bringing the Next Generation into the Family Business

March 12, 2013 5:22 pm

We often tell our client families that there is no "one size fits all" formula for transitioning a family business from one generation to the next. There are multiple variables in every family and business that impact how to best address the process in a given situation, making it challenging to offer tools like checklists to help with preparations. Yet, while each situation is unique, there are some experiences most businesses will face for which there is some common wisdom. One such situation is the experience of getting the next generation of family employees started professionally in the business.

Any transition is essentially a hand-off, much like runners in a relay passing the baton or a trapeze artist swinging from one bar to another. And, just like a relay team requires each successive runner to be in position and ready to run hard and well, the transition of a family business requires a new generation that is ready to take the baton-both in the right positions and adequately prepared. And, just like getting ready for the big race requires years of training and dedicated effort, preparing to transition the day-to-day management of the family enterprise from one generation to the next takes years of preparation before the successor generation is sufficiently ready to assume that tremendous responsibility.

While it is important to remember that succession of management authority is a process that should evolve over many years, it should be lost on no one that first impressions count. Anyone who has ever begun a new job can attest that early accomplishments often play a significant role in one's long-term success. Of course, there are no guarantees for success, but a family member who starts his or her career in the business with strong objective success or as a clear contributor on a team will be more valuable to the company and likely have continued success than a family member who does not. With that in mind, here's that checklist I mentioned earlier; a list of "Do's and Don'ts" for onboarding new family employees in a family enterprise:

Do...


Plan ahead. The most important preparations happen years before the new family employee actually joins the family business, ideally when they go to work at another company. The self-confidence, credibility and learning of outside best practices that come from working elsewhere have immeasurable value for the new family employee once they join their family's enterprise. Outside experience gives the new family hire instant credibility with other employees-credibility that can otherwise take years to develop, as some non-family team members may assume successes the family employee has at the business are thanks to their family connection. Even more important, however, is the self-confidence that is developed when a family member knows without a shadow of a doubt that he or she can succeed in the outside world, too.

Start the new family employee at an appropriate level. If you start them at a level that's well above their skills and experience, then you risk overwhelming them and sending a signal to the rest of the organization that they will be given unfair advantages. If you start them at a level that's too low-because you started at the bottom and they should, too-even if they come with years of outside experience, then you risk putting them in a boring work situation or causing them a lot of frustration that could lead them to leave. Of course, many families believe it is important that their family employees experience all aspects of their business(tiresome jobs included), and that approach has great merit; the only caveat is you may not want to have a college-educated and well-experienced manager bagging groceries for more than a few weeks.

Announce the new family employee's arrival in a matter-of-fact manner. In most cases, it should not be a secret that the new hire is part of the family, and the rest of the company will figure it out quickly, so why hide it? A simple e-mail from the CEO along the following lines will typically work well: "I am happy to announce that my daughter, Jane Doe, will be joining the company as our newest marketing manager."

Have the new family employee report to a long-standing employee and well-regarded non-family member. It's not always possible, but there are great advantages to having the new family employee report to someone who is not also a family member. Most importantly, this kind of reporting relationship will increase the chances that the new family employee will receive accurate performance feedback.

At a minimum, provide the new family employee with the same performance feedback process as all other comparable employees. If all employees receive an annual formal performance review with informal "check ins" quarterly, then that's what the new family employee should receive as well. As it can be challenging for a mid-level manager to provide objective feedback to a member of the owning family, it can sometimes be helpful to develop some support from the HR department or other senior leaders in the business for this process. In addition, there may be a desire to take a more proactive role in the professional development opportunities for family employees if they have the ambition and potential to eventually move into more senior roles in the business.

Involve the board. An outside board member can be helpful to both the older and the younger generation during the time when a new family employee first joins the family enterprise. This board member can provide an important perspective of impartiality to both generations, particularly during episodes of conflict.

Communicate. Too often, the new family employee or the incumbent feels frustrated, angry, confused or even delighted about a particular situation... and they keep that feeling to themselves. It's important for all key parties to check in with each other frequently and informally, simply to keep the lines of communication open. Establish a tradition of a weekly breakfast or monthly lunch to ensure communication stays strong. Family members may have many qualities, but mind-reading isn't one of them!

Don't...

Create a job for the new family employee. This is really an extension of the second bullet point above. Just as it's important to bring the new family employee into the organization at an appropriate level, it's equally important that a job is not created for them. If the position is not genuine, then others in the company will know that... and they will likely resent the new family employee as a result. In addition, it can be difficult to objectively assess the performance and development of the family employee if they are not in a role or job that has to be done, that provides some accountability.

Put all the responsibility for the career entry and development of the new family hires on just one generation. Onboarding a new family employee in a family enterprise is a complicated and sometimes difficult process that is too big for any one person. It's not the new family employee's sole responsibility to make it happen; nor is it the sole responsibility of the incumbent. Successful onboarding is a responsibility that is shared by both generations.

If you keep the above items in mind while planning for the transition of your family's business, you will take an important step toward increasing the likelihood that your family business will continue long into the future.

Source: www.efamilybusiness.com
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Are You Healthy? Would You Know If You Weren't?

March 12, 2013 5:22 pm

Not too long ago – just after World War II – few people in the United States brushed their teeth with any regularity. Now, the mere thought of going an entire day or night without brushing one’s teeth is simply out of the question for most.

Hopefully, someday in the near future, a similar attitude will prevail regarding mental well-being, says Dr. Matt Mumber, an oncologist and author of “Sustainable Wellness: An Integrative Approach to Transform Your Mind, Body, and Spirit,” coauthored by Yoga therapist Heather Reed.

“Human happiness and well-being are rudderless without awareness, which I define as the quality of paying attention to what’s going on in the present moment from an inquisitive, nonjudgmental and focused perspective,” he says.

An easy way to think of optimal wellbeing might be to envision a three-legged stool, says Reed.
“The three legs include physical activity, nutrition and that underappreciated component missing from too many Americans’ lives – stress management, or a healthy mental state,” she says.

After checking off a healthy diet and exercise from the list, how does one go about ensuring a healthy mind? Mumber and Reed say the key is mindfulness, which they define as paying attention on purpose, non-judgmentally and as though your life depended on it. Framed another way, mindfulness means focusing on something without trying to change it, like the sky holding passing clouds without clinging to them.

They describe the states necessary for attaining mindfulness:
Beginner’s mind is the ability to see things with new eyes. The Bible warns against putting new wine in old wine skins – doing so risks tainting the new stock. A beginner’s mind opens people to the world of possibilities that exist in the present moment. That does not mean throwing away good ideas from the past; rather, it means to entertain new ideas with a truly open sensibility.
Trust: Believe in your authority to know your own body, thoughts and feelings. We need to have the confidence necessary to trust that our thoughts and feelings at any given moment have value.
Non-judging is the ability to see things for what they are, to hold an open and neutral place for whatever comes up within and around you, without thinking of anything as categorically better or worse than anything else.
Patience is a willingness to continue with the process of paying attention on purpose even when it appears that no progress is being made. Learning and growing through mindful practice happens with time, and we can’t force the outcome.
Acceptance refers to allowing whatever comes up in the moment to be held in our field of awareness. This is not the same as giving up or being passive; acceptance is merely acknowledgement.
Letting go is refusing to attach to specific thoughts, feelings or behaviors. This can feel like losing something, but every time we let go, we open ourselves to something new and, potentially, deeper.
Non-striving: In our goal-oriented society, this may seem counterintuitive. However, non-striving refers only to practicing mindfulness without expectation of some future goal or dream, which helps us better live in the now.
“By having our three-legged stool firmly planted in awareness, we can drop into what we typically call a sense of spiritual wellbeing,’ says Mumber.

Source: www.sustainablewellnessonline.com.
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Protect Young Eyes in the Technology Age

March 8, 2013 4:14 pm

(Family Features)—Whether it’s a tablet with an educational purpose or a big screen displaying the latest video game, the use of electronic technology is skyrocketing among kids. In fact, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, children ages eight to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours with electronics every day.

Unfortunately, all of that screen time can cause eye fatigue, and ultimately have an impact on your child’s overall vision and eye health.

To view things closer, our eyes automatically adjust by drawing inward; our pupils get smaller to focus, and our eye muscles adjust so we can see a clear image. As a result, extended use of electronic screens can cause tired, blurry or irritated eyes.

Intense focus on a video screen also leads to a diminished blink rate, which can result in eye injuries.

Although there is no scientific evidence that computers and handheld electronic devices directly cause vision problems, using these devices wisely can help prevent eye fatigue and strain, as well as associated headaches, blurred vision and dry eyes.

To help protect your child’s vision, consider these tips from Ameritas, a leading provider of dental, vision and hearing care plans:

Know that prolonged use of electronic devices can exacerbate underlying eye conditions, so electronics should be used in moderation. Limit screen time to two hours or less a day (including watching TV, playing video games and using mobile phones).

Encourage intentional blinking while electronic devices are in use to help refresh eyes with natural moisture that helps prevent bacterial infections, dry spots and corneal breakdown.

Reduce additional eye strain by managing glare from windows and using low-watt bulbs in light fixtures.
Keep computer screens 20 to 28 inches away from the face.

Practice a rule of 20s to give eyes a rest. Every 20 minutes, ask your child to look at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds before refocusing attention up close again.

Move around and change positions periodically while using a device.

Watch for signs of eyestrain while electronic devices are in use, such as squinting, frowning at the screen or rubbing eyes.

If vision problems or discomfort arise, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor for a professional evaluation.

When taking into account time at the office in front of a computer screen, many adults regularly use electronic devices for as long as, or even longer than, their children. Following the same advice not only sets a good example, but it can help protect your own eye health.

Source: www.ameritasinsight.com
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Give Your Home a Green Spring Cleaning

March 8, 2013 4:14 pm

(BPT) - When you clean your house in the spring, you really want it to be clean. Dirt, dust and germs are banned, and all appliances, floors and walls are scrubbed clean. But is your house really clean, or have you traded dirt and germs for caustic and toxic chemicals found in most conventional cleaning products?

Even some so-called natural cleansers can contain these same or similar nasty ingredients. And you would know this only if the manufacturer practices full disclosure of ingredients on their labels, which is not required on home care products. Think about it - when was the last time you saw a full ingredient listing on your spray cleaner?

The best way to make sure your living space is clean and healthy is to use safe, natural cleaning products you create yourself, using natural and inexpensive ingredients you can pick up at any natural grocery store. It's cost-effective, not difficult and, like the task of spring cleaning itself, it's satisfying and rewarding. You can craft your own, home-spun versions of everything from carpet cleaner to furniture dusting polish - and have the satisfying assurance that you really are keeping your home clean and green.

Whether you're shopping for prepared natural cleaning solutions or making your own, keep in mind that the word "aromatherapy" is now being applied to everything scented - from dishwashing liquid to laundry detergent. The true practice of aromatherapy relies on using pure essential oils extracted from plants. These natural plant essences nurture us on mental, emotional, physical and even spiritual levels. House cleaning isn't exactly a spiritual exercise, but adding the effects and properties of essential oils to your homemade household products can enhance the experience and the effectiveness of your task.

Essential oils have potent antimicrobial effects along with their clean, pleasant natural aromas. Here are a few "classic" homecare essential oils suggested by the experts at the leading aromatherapy company, Aura Cacia: lemon (clean, sweet, uplifting scent; deodorizing), peppermint (minty, fresh; air purifier; mild pest repellent), eucalyptus and tea tree (air and surface sanitizers; fresh, therapeutic aromas).

Here's a shopping list of key ingredients for making your own homecare products:

  • Baking soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) - Gently abrasive scouring powder, odor absorber and an excellent base for making your own cleaning preparations.
  • Washing soda (Sodium Carbonate)
  • Borax (Sodium Borate) - Natural mineral compound, laundry booster, multipurpose cleanser, fungicide/insecticide.
  • White distilled vinegar (Acetic Acid)
  • Liquid soap (Sodium Hydroxide) - Choose from vegetable oil-based soaps such as olive oil or sweet almond.
  • Distilled water - Clean, distilled water acts as a better carrier and dirt solvent. Tap water will often contain salts and minerals that can lead to spotting and build-up.
  • Essential oils
  • Spray bottles
  • Natural bristle scrubbing brushes
  • Squeeze bottles
  • Cotton dusting cloth
  • Hemp or Jute fiber scrubbing cloth
  • Tote to put it all in

Follow these simple recipes for making your own basic homecare products:

Basic Spray Cleaner

2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sodium borate
1/4 teaspoon liquid soap
36 drops essential oil*
*Cleansing and purifying essential oils: lemon, tea tree, eucalyptus, spike lavender.

Gentle Scouring Cream
1/2 cup baking soda

Liquid soap
18 drops essential oil*
*Oils that brighten: lemon, lemongrass, grapefruit.
Add essential oils to baking soda and blend. Next, incorporate the liquid soap, several drops at a time, until a creamy paste forms.

Window Cleaner
2 cups water
3 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 teaspoon liquid soap
36 drops essential oil

Wooden Furniture Polishing Oil
3 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon jojoba oil
10 drops lemon essential oil

Carpet Deodorizing Powder
1 cup baking soda
18 drops essential oil*
*Deodorizing essential oils: bergamot, coriander seed, lavandin.

Carpet Cleaner
1 cup baking soda
1 teaspoon liquid soap
18 drops essential oil

Source: www.auracacia.com.
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3 Potential Ways to Sue Over a Sinkhole

March 8, 2013 4:14 pm

Jeff Bush was asleep in his Florida home when a giant sinkhole opened under his bedroom. The 37-year-old man is presumed dead in this very unfortunate accident, Reuters reports. But can anyone sue over this sinkhole? Or was it simply a freak accident for which no one is to blame?

It doesn't happen often, but sinkholes have been known to form and cause massive damage. This is especially true in parts of Florida.

When sinkholes form, property owners and injured victims can potentially file lawsuits under several theories of liability. Depending on the circumstances, these can include:

Premises liability. If you are at someone's home and you are hurt in a sinkhole, you may be able to sue the owner of the home under the theory of premises liability. Generally, homeowners have a duty to maintain a safe environment for their guests. And if there are warning signs that a home is on shaky foundation, then the homeowner may be responsible for performing the necessary repairs or warning visitors of the danger. Of course, liability under this theory would depend upon the owner knowing about the sinkhole, or having reasonable notice of the danger.

Real estate fraud. Unscrupulous sellers will sometimes sell you a damaged home without telling you that it is sitting on top of a sinkhole. After all, until a sinkhole actually develops it can be extremely difficult to see the warning signs. If a seller fails to notify a buyer of a known sinkhole, the seller could potentially be liable for damages. Many real estate agents use some form of a sinkhole disclosure statement in states like Florida where sinkholes are an issue.

Neighborly nuisance. Sometimes the damage to your property may be caused by someone else. For example, if a factory around the corner performed some underground work affecting the foundation of your entire neighborhood, you may be able to sue the factory for sinkholes and other damage. Practically speaking, suing a neighbor for negligently creating a sinkhole may be the best way for a victim to recover damages.

Deaths caused by sinkholes are rare. It is much more common to experience property damage or monetary loss when sinkholes form. If that happens to you, you may want to contact an experienced attorney to learn about your options for collecting damages.

Source: www.Findlaw.com
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Word of the Day

March 8, 2013 4:14 pm

Lease. Contract that conveys the right to use property for a period of time in return for a consideration, usually rent, paid to the property owner.
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How-To: Manage Credit while Traveling

March 8, 2013 4:14 pm

(BPT) - When it comes to the excesses and indulgences of vacation, you might like to think that "what happens in Vegas (or wherever you travel) stays in Vegas." Unfortunately, poor spending and credit choices made on vacation definitely come home with you, so it's important to take steps to protect your credit - both before and while you travel.

If your spring and summer plans include vacation, keep these financial considerations in mind:

Prepping for your trip

Planning ahead is one of the best ways to save money on travel. Book air tickets, lodging reservations and rental cars well in advance; prices rarely go down as your travel date approaches. Booking in advance also allows you extra time to shop around for the best possible deals.

Comparison price everything - from airfare to attraction tickets - online. Remember to include Web coupon sites in your search, not just popular travel sites. Online review sites can also help you learn more about lodging and attraction options in far-away destinations.

Shopping around can also help you decide if you're traveling at the best time for you, or if you have some flexibility to travel when prices are lower.

While using a credit card to book online is a smart move - credit cards offer consumer protections that cash and debit cards don't - be sure to pay off the purchases right away. If you know you won't be able to pay off the travel costs immediately, review your credit standing. Consider how credit purchases for travel might impact your credit score. Websites like freecreditscore.com can help you understand the impact certain credit decisions may have on your overall finances. Freecreditscore.com has a patented Score Planner that lets you see how financial behaviors can affect your credit score.

Prepare for your travel plans by saving money toward that goal. Some banks have revived the tradition of a vacation club savings account, but you can set aside money in any interest-bearing account to fund your travel plans.

While traveling

If you planned ahead, booked in advance and did your homework to find the best deals on airfare and lodging, you've made a good start. It's important to continue making good financial choices while on the road. Take steps to protect your cash, credit and identity while traveling.

Some cash will likely be required on your trip. Never carry all your cash in one place; instead, split it up between multiple bags, or have a traveling companion carry some of your cash. When you arrive at your destination, store cash in the hotel safe and only take out what you think you will need for the day's activities.

When using your credit card on the road, never let it out of your sight. Be aware of "shoulder surfers" who may stand behind you in a ticket line and use a smartphone to snap a picture of your card. Carry just one card for use and store a backup in the hotel safe in case of emergencies. Leave unnecessary cards and identification - such as your Social Security card or wholesale club card - at home.

Never use a public Wi-Fi connection - such as the ones found in airports or hotels - to access your online financial accounts. Enterprising crooks have been known to use special devices to hack account information from unsuspecting travelers.

Once you're back home, take another look at your credit and keep a close eye on financial statements and credit accounts for a few months. Catching fraud early may help mitigate its financial impact.
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