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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
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Office Phone: 215-453-7653
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Tom's Blog

Word of the Day

January 25, 2013 4:28 pm

Escheat. Reversion of property to the state when the owner dies without leaving a will and has no heirs to whom the property may pass.
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Building a Basement Garden

January 25, 2013 4:28 pm

This January, I am not only taking a look down those stairs and shining a light on some of the most common winter basement issues, but providing tips on turning that dark hole into wholly usable space.

This brings us to recent advice from thesimpledollar.com, on the ROI (return on investment) if you're thinking of converting part of your basement into an indoor veggie garden. The Simple Dollar recently did the math on maintaining a basement garden to grow your own fresh food.

The costs today may be slightly higher or lower, but it's a good guideline to judge whether you want to consider taking your summer gardening hobby indoors full-time, and bear the fruit (or veggies) of that decision.

First, a single industrial grow light retailing for about $300 would be required to convert a clear 80 square foot basement area into a greenhouse space. A grow light that size uses 1,000 watts of energy - so running it 12 hours a day for 3 months equates to 1,080 hours of use.

That will cost you between $120 and $150 per season.

Seeds could be as cheap as $3 per growing session, assuming that you’re not using heirlooms, in which case there would be a one-time cost of $4 or $5, according to thesimpledollar.com. All told the space, energy and supplies are estimated to run $1,640, or $164 per season for the first 10 years.

To give some perspective, that means each season if you just grow one item - say 800 pounds of tomatoes - this would yield a cost per pound of about 20 cents, compared to the retail cost of about $3 a pound.

Now comes the clincher - time. It could take as much as 100 hours per season to maintain this type of garden, or more based on the diversity of your plantings.

And if you don't have an outlet for your harvests, you may incur more time and costs for canning supplies or other types of processing. Maybe a rec. room would be more fun - we'll pick up on that in our next segment on basements.
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8 Things Every Kitchen Design Needs

January 25, 2013 4:28 pm

It’s been said that the kitchen is the heart of your home – a friendly gathering point, a place for sustenance, a spot where the family can work together to create a memorable meal.

“It is important for a kitchen to provide the space, the ambience, and the necessary amenities to make all these things more enjoyable,” said kitchen designer Mick De Giulio, who has designed more than 3,000 beautiful and practical kitchens since he began his career at the age of 19.

Whether you are shopping for a home or preparing to remodel the kitchen you have, De Giulio offers his seven top tips for what every great kitchen should have:

  • Natural light – Look for more ways to maximize light, from creating bigger windows to adding a skylight to using more reflective surfaces, such as glass and stainless steel.
  • Comfort – It’s nice to have some soft seating in the ktichen, a small TV, and – if you have or can create the space – a fireplace.
  • Visual texture – Include a mix of woods, countertop materials, and finishes that create warmth, personality, and mood.
  • An island – If space allows, an island becomes the social center of the kitchen as well as an expanded work space.
  • High performance appliances – Today’s high-efficiency burners, and ovens with convection and self-cleaning features are indispensable for the dedicated cook.
  • Integrated refrigeration – Creating cabinet facades to hide refrigeration units provides a tremendous amount of design freedom. Eliminating the traditional large, boxy element makes a kitchen feel more room-like.
  • A hook – Every great kitchen needs a visual ‘hook’ – that one unique element that just pulls you in, like a distinctive range hood, a well-stocked pot rack, or a really lovely floor design or backsplash.
  • Ice cream – Without it, De Giulio said, no kitchen is complete.
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The 10 'Never-Break' Rules of Good Credit

January 25, 2013 4:28 pm

(BPT) - Some rules are meant to be broken - like the one about not wearing white after Labor Day. Others should remain sacrosanct, such as the rules of good credit. Those are the kind of rules that can make life easier and happier when you follow them - and help ensure your finances stay in good order, too.

Unlike fashion rules, the rules of good credit are really not subject to interpretation or personal opinion. They derive from the formulae that credit bureaus and lenders use to calculate your credit score.

So what are the 10 unbreakable rules of good credit? Here they are in descending order, a la David Letterman:

10. Create a budget and stick to it. Your budget should cover everyday expenses and allow for the smart use of credit.
9. Use credit cards wisely. Smart use of revolving credit - not carrying a balance, paying the full balance immediately - is an important component of a healthy credit score. Unwise use, such as running up debt, can lower your score. And in that vein ...
8. Always pay more than the minimum balance on your credit cards. Ideally, you would pay off the entire balance right away, but if that's not possible, pay more than the minimum - as much as you can afford. Paying only the minimum balance means it will take years - and thousands in interest charges - to pay off your debt.
7. When applying for a loan - which includes applying for new credit cards - do so wisely. Comparison shop and make your applications (if you'll be making more than one) in a short amount of time, so that those credit inquiries will only count against your credit score once. Stretching applications over time, or making too many in a short amount of time, can negatively impact your credit score.
6. Your credit utilization ratio - the amount you owe compared to the amount of credit you have available - is a key factor in determining your credit score. Avoid maxing out your credit - including credit cards or home equity lines of credit. At any given time, try to keep three quarters to two thirds of your total available credit free for use.
5. Don't immediately close a credit card account just because it's paid off. Doing so can skew your credit utilization ratio. Before you close an account, be sure you understand what impact - if any - the action will have on your credit score.
4. Practice identity theft protection measures. From shredding sensitive paper documents before trashing them, to keeping your PC's virus protection software up to date, it's important to take steps to protect your credit from identity theft and fraud.
3. If you're in financial trouble, don't practice avoidance. If you can't pay your bills, contact your creditors to work out a payment plan, but know that not making minimum payments may negatively impact your credit score. Being proactive may not solve your financial woes but it can help minimize the negative impact on your credit.
2. Keep an eye on your credit score. Maybe you're in the habit of reviewing your credit report once a year, or only check it when you're planning to apply for a loan, but it's important to stay on top of your credit score all the time. Fortunately, the Internet has made it easy to monitor your credit report and score. Enrolling in membership of a product like freecreditscore.com can help you understand your credit. With enrollment, you get credit score alerts, identity protection alerts and fraud resolution support if you find an error on your credit report.

And, the No. 1 rule of good credit:
1. Pay your bills on time. A consistent, long-term history of timely bill paying goes a long way toward a healthy credit score. In fact, a solid payment history can pull up your score even if there are other negatives on your credit report, such as a high ratio of credit used to credit available. Not paying your bills on time - or at all - is a surefire recipe for bad credit.
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Q: What Are the Disadvantages of Buying Foreclosures?

January 25, 2013 4:28 pm

A: Buying directly at a legal foreclosure sale is risky. Among the disadvantages:

There is no financing. You need cash and lots of it.
The title needs to be checked before the purchase. If not, you risk assuming a seriously deficient title.
It may not be possible to inspect the property’s interior before the sale. So you have no idea of the property’s condition.

Foreclosures are routinely purchased “as is,” which means you cannot go back to the seller for repairs.
Also, estate and foreclosure sales are the only property sales that are exempt from some state disclosure laws. In both instances, the law protects the seller – usually the heir or financial institution – who has recently acquired the property through adverse circumstances and may have little or no direct information about it.
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Word of the Day

January 25, 2013 4:28 pm

Escrow. Money or documents held by a third party until specific conditions of an agreement or contract are fulfilled.
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Basements, Roofs and Melting

January 24, 2013 6:24 pm

In many parts of the country, I know winter brings a lot of concerns about basements and roofs. So this January, we'll not only focus on winter basement issues - we'll give you tips on turning that dark hole into wholly usable space.

We'll also cover some important territory about protecting and preserving your roof.

We recently found a post by Matthew Stock of U.S. Waterproofing, which serves customers Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. He knows clients who live in proximity to Lake Michigan experience a higher amount of basement problems associated with 'lake effect' snow, wind and sub-zero cold.

Stock says lake effect snow occurs when cold winter winds blow across the warmer waters of large lakes. In the U.S. and Canada, it occurs primarily around the Great Lakes region - that means more significant snow accumulations.

He says an unseasonably warm winter day or long-awaited spring can cause water invasion from the ground from snowmelt, even before spring rains begin. Additional snow on roofs, Stock addes, causes not only basement seepage but water problems in completely different areas of the home.

So if you have one, now is the time to be sure your sump pump - a crucial part of any basement waterproofing system - is working properly. If you don't - and begin to experience a need for one to divert excess water seepage from your basement - your local or county health agency can provide referrals for companies doing installations in your area.

Stock also warns about ice dams that occur when snowmelt runs into gutters and re-freezes at night, pushing up under shingles and causing roof leaks. Ice dams can also damage gutters, causing them to bend outward and sag from their mountings dumping water runoff next to the foundation.

He says you can avoid ice dams and the resulting damage making sure gutters are clean and flowing freely before the snow flies - and downspouts are clear of obstructions. Roof damage can also be averted by maintaining adequate insulation in the attic and ensuring that there is proper outside air flow under the roof.

Get more information by visiting U.S. Basement at www.seepage.com.

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7 Tips for Keeping Your Financial Fitness Resolution

January 24, 2013 6:24 pm

The new year is a great time to get yourself pointed in the right direction financially.
“Making small improvements at the beginning of the year is a lot easier than trying to play catch-up,” says financial planner Rick Rodgers, author of “The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning”

“Just as you would embark on an exercise program to lose weight and get physically fit, there are simple steps you can take that will lead to being financially healthy and fit.”

Here are Rodgers’ seven tips for improving your financial life in 2013.
• Review your credit report - Borrowing money isn’t the only reason to check your credit. Employers check credit reports and so do insurance companies. Your credit score can have a profound effect on the amount you pay for auto and homeowners insurance -- and perhaps on health and life insurance in the not-too-distant future. Order your free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.

• Set up an Automatic Savings Plan (ASP) - If your employer doesn’t offer this through payroll deduction you can set one up through your bank or brokerage account. Simply have a certain amount of money withdrawn from your checking or savings account each month and deposited into your investment account. That way, you save it before you ever have a chance to spend it. Try to increase the amount you invest at least once a year.

• Establish a cash flow plan
– Business owners know you can’t control what you don’t track. Take the time to forecast your income and expenses for the year, and put it in writing. Then adjust those numbers to reach your goals, such as paying down debt or replacing a car. Track your progress on a regular basis by holding a monthly family finance meeting to review the plan.

• Pay off your credit cards
– It’s especially important to take action on debt in 2013. Cash doesn’t earn much interest sitting in a deposit account (less than 1 percent) and even “low interest” credit cards charge 10 to 12 percent. So if you're sitting on any extra savings, consider using it to pay down credit card debt. Your cash flow plan should include a schedule to eliminate credit card debt as quickly as possible.

• Shop your insurance – Insurance agents are often paid commission based on premium levels, so they have no incentive for finding existing customers lower premiums. However, there is a huge incentive for a competing agent to find you the lowest premium in order to win your business. Make note of the coverage levels you have for your homeowner’s and auto policies and use them to comparison shop. Look at ways to save on your health insurance coverage, too, such as switching to a high-deductible plan and opening a Health Savings Account.

• Write an estate plan – At a minimum you need to have a valid will, power-of-attorney (POA) for your finances and health-care decisions, and a living will (Advanced Healthcare Directive in some states). Decide who will be your personal representative in the event you become incapacitated (POA) or at your death (executor). If you have minor children, choose who will raise them in your absence and establish a testamentary trust for their finances.

• Meet with a financial adviser
– An adviser is to financial planning as a personal trainer is to an exercise program. Allow yourself to be held accountable by a third party who will push you to help yourself. Good advisers will help you develop a budget, look at your debts, tax situation, retirement and college savings, estate planning and insurance. You don’t have to be a high-net-worth individual to seek the assistance of a financial adviser. Visit the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) online and search for one in your area.

Don’t just make a vague resolution to save money. According to Psychology Today, of the millions of American’s who make a New Year’s resolution, 40 percent have already failed by Jan. 31. Let 2013 be the year you make lasting changes to improve your financial life.

Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, “The Retirement Specialists,” in Lancaster, Pa. He’s a Certified Retirement Counselor and member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers.

For more information, visit www.RodgersSpeaks.com.
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How to Fall in Love with Yourself & Live Happily Ever After

January 24, 2013 6:24 pm

Many of us want to pursue happiness, but we aren’t always sure where to find it. In his years as a successful entrepreneur creating and selling corporations to the likes of Coca-Cola and Kimberly-Clark, Richard Jaffe, one of the owners of the Phoenix Suns, found a few constants to guide him in business and in life.

“Love myself; live my values, and learn to give back,” says Jaffe, who gained respect as an inspirational leader.

The most important of these and the key to happiness, he says, is learning to love himself. It’s a recurring theme in the poetry he’s been writing for decades and recently published in, “Inner Peace & Happiness: Reflections to Grow Your Soul.”

“I’ve found that loving myself is fundamental to my happiness,” he says. “The one person I have a relationship with for my entire life is myself, so it’s essential to make that relationship my priority. When I have the inner peace that comes from loving myself, I don’t have to look to others to fill my emotional needs and wants.”

How does one learn to love him- or herself and to be happy? For Jaffe, it came from living and acting on his values in business and in his personal life, whether he was struggling or succeeding.

“These are the things that have worked for me,” he says. “Values guide my choices, and my choices affect how I feel about myself and how I interact with others.”

These are some of the values and tenets that have helped make Jaffe an exceedingly happy man.
• Find your passion and indulge in it. Jaffe has been expressing himself through poetry for 30 years – that is one of his greatest passions. “Poetry helps to provide me balance in life between work, family and other external commitments,” he says. “When I allow myself time to indulge in my passion, I recharge my spirit, my mind and my body.”
• Remember - givers gain. Even when he was a broke young entrepreneur, Jaffe and his wife of 28 years, Ann, always made sure to give to the community, to their temple, to charity. “Give even when you have nothing,” he says. “It always comes back to bless you, though sometimes from a different source.”
• Don’t rely on anyone else to make you happy. It doesn’t work, Jaffe says. When your happiness is dependent on your love for someone else, they control your happiness. Love doesn’t always stick around – sometimes it comes into our lives in order to teach us how to care. We have to rely on ourselves.
• Be the very best you can be at whatever you do. Don’t compare yourself to your competition, to history, to anyone else. Instead, raise the bar on yourself. “Even if I get knocked down at something, I can be happy when I know I gave it my very best effort,” Jaffe says. “I don’t always succeed, but I can give an even better effort the next time because I will have learned from being knocked down. Defeat is being knocked down; failure is the unwillingness to get back up!”
• Control your thoughts and keep them positive. “My kids used to come to me to complain when they were unhappy about something,” Jaffe says. “I would tell them, ‘If you do not like the way you feel, just change the way you think!’ It drove them crazy!” But they did eventually understand that their negative thoughts were making them feel bad. Jaffe says beware -- thinking positively is habit-forming, at least for him.
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Word of the Day

January 24, 2013 6:24 pm

Equity build-up. Term used to refer to the increase of one’s equity in a property due to mortgage balance reduction and price appreciation.
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