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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
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email: tom@tomskiffington.com
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Tom's Blog

Q: What If I Am Not Happy with the Listing Agent and Want to Terminate the Contract?

January 11, 2013 6:12 pm

A: Experts say unhappiness is not a legal reason to terminate a valid home sale-listing contract. Legally, to cancel a listing, you must be able to prove the agent's lack of "due diligence." This means the agent isn't taking the normal steps to properly market your home, such as putting your listing into the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), advertising on the Internet and in local newspapers, and posting a for-sale sign on the property.
If your home is overpriced, perhaps you need to consider reducing the price to spark buyer interest. Otherwise, you may need to meet with the listing agent and his or her supervising broker to discuss the problem. If the agent is doing an awful job, you might suggest the listing be transferred to a more effective agent within the same brokerage firm.

Remember, limit the listing contract to 90 days, in case you become unhappy and would like to get another agent after the contract expires.
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Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Add ‘Hugelkultur’ to Your Yard Care Vocabulary

January 10, 2013 6:12 pm

In researching this latest segment on mulching, I turned to the land of high-performance cars and timepieces to learn about Hugelkultur—a German word for building a new garden area with branches or even trees as the base. And we got a good lesson in Hugelkultur from groworganic.com, and Toby Hemenway, author of 'Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.'

According to the site, those who have adopted the practice stateside sometimes refer to Hugelkultur as wood composting. Similar to sheet mulching or a traditional compost pile, the hugelkultur mound can be low or steep.

Organic waste is layered on top of the branches, and a cover crop or plants make the top layer. First timers shouldn't be concerned when the pile begins heating up -- for a few years this can make it a season-lengthening spot for growing tender vegetables.

And as the wood breaks down the temperature will drop, and air pockets will take the place of some of the lost wood. This mixture of soil organisms, oxygen, and moisture will create superb soil.

The book points out that a downed tree can also keep on giving to your garden’s ecosystem if you use it as the base of your mound, and heap branches at its sides, then layer on organic materials, and add plants on the top.

That newly fallen tree will use up a lot of nitrogen as it decomposes, so be sure to add bone meal and blood meal amendments over time. A tree trunk that is already rotten will not use as much nitrogen, and those nitrogen-rich amendments would not be necessary.

A fallen tree also acts as a reservoir of water, and as it slowly decays it will release that moisture. So bushes or small trees planted on the mound will reach their roots down to drink the moisture from the rotting tree to such an extent that they can survive in arid climates without extra water.
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Live Well This Winter with These Tips

January 10, 2013 6:12 pm

(BPT) - Dreaming of spring despite the cold weather outside? You're not the only one. Many people start thinking of warmer temperatures as soon as the mercury drops. Instead of sitting inside this winter, use these tips to "think spring" so you'll be ready when the thermometer rises again.
Get moving

Exercise is essential to staying healthy, especially during winter, when it's tempting to hibernate. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that healthy adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity, plus muscle-strengthening activities twice a week. One way to get moving while having fun is to exercise with a friend. You could join a dance or fitness class together, go hiking, cycling or cross-country skiing in a nearby park, or try rock climbing.

Even if your hectic schedule doesn't leave much room for daily trips to the gym or local park, you can still incorporate exercise into your regular winter routine. Playing outside with your dog or kids, keeping dumbbells at your desk, walking down the hall to deliver messages in-person versus via email, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator are just a few examples of how you can get moving despite inclement weather. Even doing your daily chores - like getting outside to shovel snow - is a great way to build physical fitness and endurance.

Set a goal
Planning a vacation for springtime can give you something to look forward to through the cold winter months and is great motivation for remaining committed to a healthy lifestyle. Organize an exciting adventure with your family or friends - like hiking, mountain biking or kayaking - to take your mind off the dreary weather outside and keep you inspired to stay in shape. Plus, you can find some great travel deals during the off-season.

Remember to laugh

Don't let the overcast weather bring you down. Smiling and laughing are good for your health any time of year. Recent Stanford University research suggests that a good giggle fit can actually lower stress and act as a mini-workout. Try grabbing your friends for a game night or to watch a funny movie. Besides making you feel better, laughter is also contagious, so you just may make those around you feel better, too.
Although spring may seem light-years away, you can use these tips to help you "think spring" now and commit to a healthy winter lifestyle. That way, when the trees start to bloom and the air feels warm again, you'll be ready for whatever comes your way. Try this delicious smoothie recipe to get you started.

Try a smoothie
Nutrition has an incredible impact on wellness, and incorporating whole foods into your daily routine can help you stay fit through the winter months. A quick and easy way to begin incorporating more nutrient-packed foods into your diet is with fruit and vegetable smoothies. Try making a fruit salad smoothie in your blender to start your day. Toss whole fruits and vegetables into the machine, and its powerful motor will blend the mix into a smooth, on-the-go treat that tastes great and gives you natural energy.

Source: www.vitamix.com
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10 Ways to Offset Payroll Tax Hikes Caused by Fiscal Cliff

January 10, 2013 6:12 pm

American workers enter 2013 having to cope with less in their paychecks as Congress passed legislation that avoided the "Fiscal Cliff" but increased Social Security taxes by two percent. That's the bad news.
The good news is that it's a new year, time for resolutions. Below are ten steps, offered by InCharge Debt Solutions, that you can take that will help you manage your money better and even offset the payroll tax increases you'll see beginning this month.

"For the average American family with a household income of $50,000, the payroll tax hikes could mean the loss of about a thousand dollars a year," says Etta Money , InCharge's President. "That kind of income loss requires some planning early in 2013 in order to cut expenses or increase earnings so the financial hit won't be so tough to absorb."

Here are ten tips to offsetting Social Security tax increass this year:

  1. Improve your credit score – Pay your bills on time, review your credit report and correct errors. Good credit scores can help you get better interest rates on car loans, mortgages, and credit cards.
  2. Look into cash back cards – If you have good credit, you can find cash back credit cards that pay up to 5 percent on purchases.
  3. Listen to the experts – Bloggers, tweeters, and financial experts with websites or Facebook pages write about and collect great ideas for cutting expenses and making money. Follow them or get on their emails lists.
  4. Avoid convenience stores – Studies show that the same items are an average of 45 percent cheaper at supermarkets, that totals hundreds of dollars per year on hurried and often last-minute purchases.
  5. Plan your meals and use coupons – Spend an extra hour a week planning menus and matching stores sales with coupons. An average family of four could save $25 per week or more, depending on how much they spend on groceries.
  6. Eat what you have – New reports show that 40 percent of all food in the United States goes uneaten, and American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and drinks they purchase. Plan your meals and eat leftovers, you could save between $1,365 and $2,275 per year.
  7. Break a bad habit – Whether it is cigarettes, alcohol, sodas, or candy, break the habit. A single pack of cigarettes each day costs $2,000 per year, $100,000 in a lifetime.
  8. Review your insurances – If you haven't had a recent car and homeowner insurance review, you may save by increasing deductibles and eliminating coverage overlaps. Good driver discounts may enable you to drop collision coverage on an aged vehicle.
  9. Refinance your mortgage – Online tools can tell you within a few minutes whether you can save money by getting a better rate on your mortgage.
  10. Check your withholdings – If you are getting money back from the IRS every year, you are withholding too much. Bankrate.com has a simple payroll deductions calculator that can help you determine how much to take out so you don't owe money or get anything back in April.

Source: InCharge Debt Solutions
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Word of the Day

January 10, 2013 6:12 pm

Delinquent loan. One where the borrower is behind, or late, in payments.
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Q: What Is the Most Common Type of Contract for Listing Properties?

January 10, 2013 6:12 pm

A: The exclusive right to sell. It gives the real estate broker the exclusive right to sell your home during the term of the listing. If a sale occurs – even if you sell the home yourself – the broker gets a commission. The broker may share the listing with other brokers on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to get the widest possible exposure for your home. If you request that the property not be listed on a multiple basis, only the broker named in the contract and his or her sales agents can market and show it.
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7 Ways to Ward off Flu

January 9, 2013 6:04 pm

You’ve heard it before, but the number one thing you can do to protect against colds or flu is to wash your hands thoroughly and often.

“Lather up with running water and scrub at least 5 times a day,” said Dr. Andrew Pekosz of Johns Hopkins University. “Antibacterial soaps are no better than regular soap, and in a pinch, use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol for a minimum of 20 seconds.”

The doctor suggests six more documented ways to help keep colds and flu at bay:

Try a humidifier – Flu viruses last longer in dry air than in moist air. A humidifier that keeps the humidity level in your home between 40 and 60 percent could be a good investment.
Skip the second drink – Alcohol can impair the ability of your white blood cells to combat viruses for up to 24 hours after you indulge. Keep your imbibing to one drink a day during flu season.
Get more sleep – Studies show that people who sleep seven hours a night or less are more apt to succumb to colds or flu than those who sleep eight hours or more.
Eat the rainbow – The immune-boosting antioxidants in brightly colored fruits and veggies battle the free radicals that can dampen your natural defenses. The brighter the color (think eggplant, red beans and blueberries) the higher the antioxidant count. Green tea is another good ally.
Season with garlic – The cloves contain a sulfuric compound that produces potent antioxidants as it decomposes. If the flavor is too strong for you, try aged-garlic extract capsules, which have no garlicky taste or odor.
Don’t rely on C – Though it’s been touted as a cold fighter, vitamin C has never been proven to fend off a cold or flu – and multiple studies show it does zilch to speed up recovery if you are sick.
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How to Help Your Student Establish a Budget

January 9, 2013 6:04 pm

(Family Features)—Money management is one skill that can be difficult for young adults to master as they head off on their own. But no matter what stage of life – whether they’re entering college or the work force – every young adult should learn how to handle their money.

Establish a Budget

Sit down together with your student and map out all monthly expenses. Include room and board or rent, books, supplies, food, personal care and medications, transportation, gas, entertainment (including dining out, movies and walking around money, etc.), and payment for phone, mobile devices, cable and Internet access. Then, figure out income. This can include money from a job, financial aid, student loans and any support from you.

Income and expenses need to balance. There are plenty of online tools you can use to figure out a budget. Some, such as www.Mint.com or some bank websites, can help students manage their budgets, making it easy for them to take care of it themselves. There are also budgeting tips and worksheets at websites such as www.SmartAboutMoney.org.

How to Stick to the Budget

Prioritize needs vs. wants. It may seem like a latte every morning is a necessity to jump-start the day, but those kinds of little expenses can add up quickly. A recent study by Westwood College found that 40 percent of the average student’s budget is being spent on “discretionary” spending; included in that is entertainment (6.5 percent), apparel and services (6.7 percent), travel and vacation (4.7 percent). Have your student do the math on how much some of their “necessities” will cost them, and then talk about how to weigh purchase decisions.

Find ways to spend less. A little planning can help young adults spend less and get more value for their dollar.

Cellphone – Avoid overage charges with an unlimited plan. For example, with Cricket Wireless, you can pay an affordable monthly fee for all-inclusive talk, text, data and music rate plans for some of the most popular smartphones available. Cricket also includes a service called Muve Music that gives students unlimited song downloads as part of their plan. Learn more at www.MyCricket.com.
Food – Coupons and digital deals can cut the costs of dining out. Look into the college meal plan – and use it. Save on snacks by stocking up at the grocery store instead of buying from a vending machine or convenience store.
Clothing – Thrift stores, consignment shops and yard sales are affordable ways to find something fun to wear.
Entertainment – Encourage them to take advantage of free activities on campus with their student ID. When going out with friends, advise your student to decide how much he or she can spend, then only take that much money with them.

Be smart about credit cards.
Many students sign up for a credit card right away, and before they know it, they are thousands of dollars in debt. Make sure they understand the impact of interest rates. Also, discuss setting limitations on using a credit card to avoid non-academic debt, such as using it only for emergencies, travel or school expenses, or only charging what they can pay back on time the next month (including interest).

Equipping your student with some basic financial skills will help them make wise money choices now and for the rest of their lives.
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Q: What Questions Should I Ask an Agent Interested in Selling My Home?

January 9, 2013 6:04 pm

A: Interview at least three local agents who sell homes in your community. Grill them about the following:

  • The worth of your home. The agents should inspect the home and prepare a written comparative market analysis.
  • Marketing plans. These are a must. Make sure they include regular newspaper ads, the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) – which gives your home maximum exposure to all local agents – and Internet marketing through the agent’s Web site.
  • Length of the listing agreement. A 90-day listing is reasonable for marketing your home. Experts advise against signing a listing for more than 90 days unless it contains an unconditional cancellation clause. If you like, you can always extend the contract later.
  • Number of listings. Find out how many listings the agent now has and how many she normally sells. Too many listings – more than a dozen – with a low sales rate, may not be a good sign.
  • Get references. Ask for the names and phone numbers of recent home sellers. Call them and ask if they were satisfied with the level of service delivered by the agent.
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Wintertime Can Be an Excellent Time for Mulching, Planting

January 8, 2013 6:02 pm

I am curious as to what you’re all doing now that the yard has 'closed for the season.' If you answered “not much,” or “not mulch…ing,” well maybe you should be!

Andrea Peck, a Master Gardener from San Luis Obispo, Calif., recently blogged about the importance of winter mulching for property owners in her temperate region of the country. Peck writes, as winter weather lowers temperatures, replenish mulch where needed and adjust watering systems to cut down on unnecessary water use.

She also offers these pointers:

  • Move sensitive container plants to a protected location or indoors when frost threatens. And drape a sheet or burlap over a frame to protect in-ground plants.
  • Prepare vegetable beds for spring by layering on a thick sheet of mulch and fertilizer.
  • Clear out annuals past their prime and tidy thoroughly before weeds latch on and pests find a home in the fallows.
  • Prune deciduous fruit and non-fruit trees now leaving strong, healthy branches ,and trim off weak, diseased or dead branches. Branches that cross or appear crowded obstruct growth, and weak limbs exposed to high winds should be lopped.

According to Peck, if you want to do some planting, selections of bare root roses are available, along with ageratum, calendula, larkspur, lavatera, phlox. This is also the time to plant artichokes, rhubarb and other bare root vegetables.

Spring flowering bulbs, such as tulips, hyacinth and crocus can be sown now, too. Just make sure bulbs have been chilled in the refrigerator for at least 6 weeks. And ample mulching, 8”-12”, discourages weeds and frost damage.

For more region-specific winter planting and garden prep or care tips, call or web-search the Master Gardeners chapter in your region, county or state. And if you're already an expert, stay tuned for a visit with your sisters- and brothers-in-mulch in Germany.
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