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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

Give Your Kid’s Lunch an Upgrade

August 16, 2012 6:40 pm

Most parent’s want their kids to get adequate nutrition. But with a busy life, even the best of intentions can get put on the backburner. A recent survey from Walmart found that moms consider the back to school season a fresh start over January 1, and that 61 percent of moms resolve to get their families eating healthier during the school year. In addition, nearly half of the surveyed moms felt that their biggest challenge to accomplishing this is the cost of healthier foods.

Food and lifestyle expert Evette Rios has some easy tips to help families pack a healthier lunch, and turn a good lunchbox into a great lunchbox:

Avoid junky snacks. Children who eat a poor quality breakfast or lunch may have a craving for junkier snacks, so offer healthier snacks like nuts and dried fruit.
It's not juice if it's not 100 percent. If you are going to serve juice make sure its 100 percent fruit juice.
Don't be afraid to give them a sweet treat. Instead of a candy bar or cookies, try a flavored yogurt, which will give them a boost of calcium.
If kids help select it or cook it, they'll eat it. Give them a choice and involve them, but guide their choices. Let them cruise the produce aisle and pick out the fruit they want to eat. Show your children how to cut veggies into bite-sized pieces that they can dip into a favorite sauce. Also, have them make trail mix with low-salt nuts and dried fruits, and portion it into single serving bags.
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Bug Buster: Itch Relief Basics

August 16, 2012 6:40 pm

From bug bites and dry skin to poison ivy and chronic skin conditions, itching makes life very uncomfortable. And it's an annoyance that gets under just about everyone's skin.

Sixty-five percent of U.S. adults have suffered from some kind of itch in the past 12 months; and for 26 percent of those polled, the itch was bad enough to see a healthcare professional, according to a recent poll conducted online by Harris Interactive for TriCalm, a new anti-itch gel.

You know it when you feel it, but what exactly is an itch, and is there anything you can do about it?

Anatomy of an Itch
The skin is your largest organ, and the average body is covered by about 20 square feet of it. Because it's so large and exposed, it comes in contact with a lot of potential irritants. Itching, known as pruritus, is a built-in defense mechanism against those irritants.

Sometimes the body's immune system overreacts to an illness, producing an itchy rash. (See sidebar story, "When is an Itch More than Just an Itch?") But for most non-illness related itching, here's how it works:

Stimuli -- such as dust, pollen, bug venom or plant oils -- land on your skin.
When the irritant gets past the surface layer, skin receptors get irritated.
The receptors send a signal to your brain.
You start to itch.

The natural response to an itch is to remove the irritant -- so the scratching begins. The scratching sensation interrupts the itching sensation because it tells your brain that the irritant is gone. While this may give some initial, immediate relief, scratching ends up irritating the nerve endings in that spot even more -- and can open up the skin, exposing it to more irritants. And more itching.

Itch Treatments

It's important to make sure you know the cause of the itching so you can take appropriate measures to stop it. There are some things you can do to help reduce itching and soothe irritated skin:

Avoid scratching -- Cover the area with bandages or dressings if you can't stop scratching. If needed, trim your fingernails and wear gloves to bed.
Apply cool, wet compresses.
Apply a topical anti-itch cream or lotion to the affected area.
Moisturize your skin with a high-quality cream at least twice a day.

Kids Get Itchy, Too
The TriCalm poll found that itches make kids -- and their parents -- feel pretty bad.

81 percent of parents are miserable when their kids are miserable from itch symptoms.
62 percent said itching keeps their children up at night.
68 percent indicated they've used creams to treat itch symptoms.
75 percent said they worry about using steroid treatments on their children to treat itch.

When is an itch more than just an itch?
It's obvious when an itch is caused by a bug bite or poison ivy. But what if you're not sure what's causing the itch?

Dry Skin -- Itching that doesn't come with obvious skin changes, like a rash, is most often due to dry skin, also known as xerosis. Dry skin usually results from environmental factors like hot or cold weather with low humidity, and washing or bathing too much.
Skin Conditions -- Eczema, psoriasis, scabies, hives, and chickenpox can cause itchy skin. The itching is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as bumps, blisters, and red, irritated skin.
Internal Diseases -- These include liver disease, kidney failure, thyroid problems, celiac disease and some cancers. Typically the itching affects the whole body, not just one area.
Allergic Reactions and Irritations -- An irritation can come from wearing wool, or coming in contact with soaps, chemicals or other substances. Sometimes the substance can cause an allergic reaction, such as poison ivy or some food allergens.
Nerve Disorders -- Multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, pinched nerves and shingles are conditions that affect the nervous system, and thus can cause itching.
Drugs -- Some antibiotics, antifungal drugs or narcotic pain medications can cause rashes and itching.

It's important to understand and treat the cause of itchy skin, so always seek medical advice before choosing a treatment.

Source: TriCalm
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Word of the Day

August 16, 2012 6:40 pm

Real estate salesperson. Person who has passed a state examination for that position, and must work under the supervision of a broker.
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Q: Are there ways to save money when using a contractor?

August 16, 2012 6:40 pm

A: Be an educated consumer: aggressively shop for the most reasonable bid, not necessarily the cheapest. Inexpensive, but shoddy, work will only cost you more money in the long run. After you find a contractor, insist that trade discounts on materials be passed on to you, or buy materials yourself. Root out any unnecessary costs written into the contract, and compare payment alternatives – flat vs. hourly rates, for example – and negotiate the more reasonable of the two. Also, do part of the project yourself. Disassembly and prep work can save you hundreds of dollars.
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Getting Your Price in an Improving Market

August 15, 2012 6:36 pm

For the first time in several years, home prices are rising in many of the nation’s metropolitan areas. This is good news for homeowners who have been waiting to put their homes on the market. But competition can be stiff, and the savvy seller will put a few dollars and a little elbow grease into sprucing up his property to make it more attractive to potential buyers.

From California real estate agent Ellen Parker, here are five tips for improving your home’s eye appeal without breaking the bank:

Curb appeal counts – A buyer’s first impression is important. Be sure the lawns and landscaping are neatly trimmed, no toys or equipment clutter the lawn or driveway, and the front door and mat look fresh, clean, and inviting. Painting or replacing a faded front door can vastly improve the look of the property.

Neutralize the rooms – Especially if you have tended toward bright paint colors, it may be time for a coat of paint to neutralize the living areas of your home. Choosing a safe off-white or cream colored paint can improve the home’s eye appeal for a greater number of buyers.

Brighten the bathroom –
Tired-looking or outdated bathrooms are frequently a buyer turn-off. But you don’t need to completely remodel. Replacing the sink and/or cabinet with a trendy new style or changing out the hardware for something snazzier can make a huge difference. Be sure the hanging towels and bath mat, and the shower curtain if you have one, are fresh and super clean.

Tidy the kitchen – Here again, a fresh coat of paint can improve the look of your kitchen – and even older flooring or countertops will look better when cleaned to a shine. Removing clutter from the countertops – including canisters and some small appliances – will help create a feeling of space. Keep all sponges and towels out of view and be sure the sink is shiny clean and free of dirty dishes.

Let the light in – Dark rooms are another turn-off. Especially when you know your home will be shown, open the drapes and curtains to let natural light in.
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Fall Kitchen Trends: White is the Most Popular Color, Rustic on Rise

August 15, 2012 6:36 pm

We all know there will be hot new fashion trends this fall, but did you know kitchens can have trend, too? While these styles may be off the runway, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep them in mind while stylizing.

With the holidays in mind, many homeowners choose to redo their kitchens in the fall. In fact, white kitchen cabinets are the most popular choice among kitchen renovators this fall.

“Our most popular door style this year has been the white shaker kitchen cabinet, which gives your kitchen a clean and inviting feeling,” explains Benjamin Gordon, Vice President of Kitchen Resource Direct. “White kitchen cabinets also give you tremendous freedom to paint your walls a bold color and add strong accent features to your kitchen. Almost like a blank canvas for your kitchen design.”

Rustic themes are also very popular for fall of 2012. Combining chocolate or coffee glazing to a cabinet door painted white accents the grooves with an antique look. Another rustic style for your new kitchen is to purchase painted cabinets that are rubbed or weathered.

“Don’t be afraid to combine completely different style cabinets with one another in your kitchen,” Gordon recommends.

The paint colors for white kitchen cabinets can come in many shades including bright white, vanilla, buttercreme, linen, antique white, and creme. This makes it difficult to choose when shopping online, so you may want to consider popping in to your local kitchen retailer for a hands-on style session.

Source: Kitchen Resource Direct
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Growing Families Looking for Larger Homes

August 15, 2012 6:36 pm

(ARA) - More and more households have extended family living together under one roof, and the tight fit has some families in the market for a larger home.

From 2007 to 2009, there was a 10.5 percent increase in multigenerational homes. That translates to 51 million Americans, or 16.7 percent of the population, who lived in homes with at least two generations of adults, according to a recent report from Pew Research Center. If your household is growing and you're looking for a larger space to accommodate your needs and family size, the housing market is in your favor. Low prices and attractive interest rates have created an opportunity for anyone looking to make a larger housing purchase.

As multi-generational living becomes more prevalent, builders and remodelers have found a niche market in creating homes designed to fit the lifestyle. For the "Sandwich Generation," a generation of people who are caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children, there are advantages to having children and grandparents under one roof such as sharing of household responsibilities and finances and increased focus on family time together. With these advantages, however, there may be a need for a larger home to accommodate a growing family.

A recent TD Bank survey found that of respondents who were planning to sell their current home and buy up, one-third attributed it to a larger or growing family. To finance a bigger home purchase, you can look to a jumbo mortgage. Jumbo mortgages are home loans that are bigger than normal. Normal varies by location, but in most housing markets, it's more than $417,000.

Choosing the right fixed-rate fit
Fixed-rate mortgages are currently at historic lows. These loans provide comfort and security though payments spanning 15 or 30 years. If you're planning to stay in your home for a long period of time, they may be a good option.

Adjustable rate mortgages for your lifestyle
If you're not looking to own your home for an extended period of time, an adjustable rate mortgage may be the best fit for your lifestyle. An adjustable rate mortgage can allow you to save money if you're able to pay down your mortgage over a one-, five-, seven-, 10- or even 15-year period. Some lenders offer significant flexibility in the length of the loan and the frequency of rate adjustments in their ARM products. For example, a 5/5 ARM has the interest rate which remains stable for five years and then readjusts once every five years after that. Finding the right loan is important as even a 1 percent interest rate reduction created by taking out an adjustable rate mortgage may create sizable savings without necessarily sacrificing security.

Refinancing your home

Payback financing options, or piggyback options, allow for a second mortgage or home equity loan to be taken out by a borrower at the same time the first mortgage is started or refinanced. Some banks may offer a piggyback option but you might see a higher blended interest rate. Portfolio lenders can help minimize the down payment and interest rate. Portfolio lenders are able to do this because they don't sell their loans to third-parties, resulting in more affordable, flexible home financing options for a borrower.

Qualifying for your loan

Qualifying for a jumbo mortgage does require stronger credentials, so be prepared for the process. Though the process can be more rigorous, some banks treat jumbo mortgages as they treat other mortgage products, guaranteeing a decision on the loan in less than 24 hours. A quick decision can help buyers close sooner or move faster when making an offer on the property they are looking to buy.

Overall, the residential mortgage landscape is experiencing gradual improvements, with housing prices stabilizing and even improving in some markets. If you're looking for a larger space to accommodate your growing family, consider beginning your home-buying process now. When looking into lenders, consider a portfolio lender, who can offer flexible terms and lending guidelines, to best fit your unique borrowing needs.

Source: TD Bank
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Eight Reasons to Review Your Life Insurance

August 15, 2012 6:36 pm

(ARA) - Life insurance might not be as common as you think. Did you know that 30 percent of American households have no form of life insurance whatsoever, leaving millions to struggle to cover day-to-day expenses if a main breadwinner were to pass away? That's according to a study by LIMRA, a worldwide association of insurance and financial services companies.

Even if you already have life insurance, financial and insurance professionals recommend that you review your policy periodically to make sure you and your loved ones are properly covered.

"As you go through life changes, your life insurance policy should change as well to reflect those changes," says Mike Plazony, senior vice president of the Life division at Erie Insurance. "The amount of life insurance you need really depends on where you are in your life and your individual circumstances."

Plazony lists eight specific circumstances that should prompt a policy review.

1. When wedding bells ring
Anyone getting married should also say "I do" to life insurance. Without a policy in place, there's no guaranteeing that your spouse and children would be provided for in the event of the unthinkable.

2. When you buy a home
Just purchased your dream home? Congratulations! In addition to taking out a homeowner's policy, you'll also want to take out a term life insurance policy. It may cost less than a whole life policy - and can cover the cost of your mortgage until it's completely paid off.

3. When you have a baby
Becoming a parent changes everything - including insurance requirements. According to the Insurance Information Institute, one-third of all families with a new baby haven't updated their life insurance protection. If you already have a policy, take the time to update your beneficiary designations.

4. When one spouse decides to stay home
The thing to remember here is that stay-at-home spouses continue to make a financial contribution to the family. Should that spouse pass away prematurely, the surviving spouse would have to cover expenses for child care, cleaning, cooking and other forms of home maintenance - and those can add up quickly. In fact, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, the annual cost of day care for a preschool-aged child ranges anywhere from $3,900 to $14,050.

5. When a child enters college
With the cost of higher education increasing every year, many parents end up co-signing on their kids' education loans. It's great that you want to help, but know that you'll be liable for the loan should tragedy strike. A life insurance policy on both the student and the parent will ensure school loans are one less worry.

6. When you open a business
Many lenders require life insurance on small business loans. It's with good reason since a separate policy protecting the business can help ensure that the business debts and operating expenses are handled. It can also give you peace of mind knowing that the policy you have for your family remains available for them when they need it.

7. When retirement is imminent
Leaving the workplace may mean leaving some life insurance benefits behind, so make sure you do a thorough review before the final quitting time.

8. When a divorce happens
Even though you're no longer married, you may still have people who depend on you financially. Review your policy's beneficiaries and what coverage is in place to protect any children you and your former spouse had together.

Because of the complexity involved in determining exactly which type and how much life insurance you need at any given point in your life, many financial sites offer tools to help you determine your needs.

Source: Erie Insurance

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Word of the Day

August 15, 2012 6:36 pm

Real estate investment trust (REIT). Entity that allows a very large number of investors to pool their money in the purchase of real estate, but as passive investors. The investors do not buy directly. Instead, they purchase shares in the REIT that owns the real estate investment.
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Q: Once I choose a contractor, what items should be covered in the contract?

August 15, 2012 6:36 pm

A: According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, a well-written contract should contain the following information:

The contractor’s name, address, telephone and license number, if applicable;
Details about what will and will not be done;
A detailed list of materials for the project, including model, brand name and color.
The approximate start date and substantial completion dates.
A written notice of your right to cancel a contract within three business days of signing, without penalty – provided the contract was solicited at some place other than the contractor’s place of business or appropriate trade premise.
Financial terms that are spelled out clearly, including payment schedules and any cancellation penalties.
A one-year minimum warranty identified as either “full” or “limited” to cover materials and workmanship, as well as the name and address of the party who will honor the warranty.
A binding arbitration clause, in the event a disagreement occurs.

You may also want to include a statement that you will not be responsible if payment to the contractors’ subcontractors and suppliers are not made. You may also want to establish that the contractor should obtain all the necessary permits and that all blank spots in the contract be filled in with phrases like “does not apply.”
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