Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
July 12, 2012 5:44 pm
A: Yes. There is no standard commission. They are not set by law and vary depending on service, customer needs, and company policy. In general, agents charge between 4 percent and 8 percent for full service. Some agents prefer not to offer sellers’ the option of paying a fee for an individual service.
If you insist on overpricing your home, an agent may well insist on a higher commission to cover the added marketing expenses and time that are needed to sell it.
Think of a commission as a point you must negotiate and evaluate.
July 11, 2012 5:44 pm
Every family needs storage space, but if finding something in your garage is like making your way through an obstacle course, it’s time to make better use of space.
“There are many easy and inexpensive storage aids available out there that can make the most of garage space,” says big-box store lumber manager Randy Haig. “With a weekend and less than $100, you may be able to take garage space to the max.”
Haig offers ideas for three simple fixes:
• Look overhead – If there are exposed rafters, laying some planks across them will give you additional space for seldom-used items such as holiday décor, seasonal sports gear or extra luggage. You can also build hanging storage bins to hang from the ceiling joists if there is space beyond the garage door tracks.
• Deck the walls – They are prime real estate for shelving, hooks and hanging space. Simple brackets and sturdy shelves can do wonders for getting paint, garden tools, cleaning equipment and other things off the floor. Buy heavy duty brackets and shelves that can withstand some weight. Pegboard is versatile for hanging small tools and yard gear, like shovels, rakes, and drills, from sturdy hooks. A step up from pegboard is slat walls, like the ones used in many hardware stores. Cabinets, bins and shelving just pop right in and can be re-arranged as necessary.
• Clear the floors – Building or buying shelving units that hug the wall is one way to save space. Upright bins and storage tubes can holds yard equipment, sports gear and gift wrap supplies. Clear, stackable storage bins, clearly marked, provide see-through access to gloves, tapes, and other gadgets – and a rolling storage cart you build or buy can be stashed next to built-in or added shelving and moved around for convenience.
July 11, 2012 5:44 pm
There's nothing more traditional about a summertime party or even a small family gathering, than crafty and patriotic decorations and food. So on a recent gander at midwestliving.com, I saw these cool and patriotic summer ideas:
Put a patriotic spark in the middle of your serving table by combining weathered croquet balls and baseballs. You can place colorful balls in a bowl for a simple look, or nestle them in wheatgrass for an effective centerpiece.
First, cover the bottom of a bucket, basket or woodbin with a plastic sheet and fill with crumpled newspaper as a base. Then add a layer of fresh wheatgrass with roots attached - trays of wheatgrass are available at grocery or pet stores.
Cut to fit your container; the grass should stay fresh five or six days. Arrange baseballs and red, white and blue croquet balls on top. To finish, stick several small U.S. flags into the grass.
How about a tray of Firecracker-Red Cupcakes with Coconut Filling? These red, white and blue dessert stars are moist and gooey, and extra easy to prepare according to midwestliving.com
Or try Red, White and Blue Parfaits. Pour asyrup of honey, sugar and crystallized ginger over watermelon, blueberries and strawberries, then top with a swirl of sweetened whipped cream and a fruit star for a patriotic finish.
July 11, 2012 5:44 pm
As college students prepare to return to cozy, shared dorms and not-so-spacious apartments in August, Rent.com has some cohabitating tips to minimize stress for renting roomies that just might be the key to success. Rent.com surveyed renters about their worst roommate ever to better understand what renters look for in a co-tenant and discover what pet peeves drive them to the edge. The must-do for roomies who can’t seem to get along—set aside their differences and clean!
Clean Up Your Act
According to the survey, about half of respondents (45 percent) admitted to having particular pet peeves with a current or past roommate, and the largest group (20 percent) said the problem resides in cleanliness, or lack thereof. While a messy roommate was the most popular grievance, other pet peeves include a roommate who doesn’t pay bills on time (10 percent) and a roomie who uses things without asking (nine percent). Following closely behind in roommate complaints, no one enjoys a roomie who constantly has visitors—especially a live-in significant other—which six percent of respondents selected as their primary peeve.
Make Up Before You Break Up
Finding the right roommate is almost like realizing you are in a perfect relationship. Everything just fits. However, some relationships aren’t meant to be and suffer from lack of communication, pent up frustration or selfishness; and, likewise, many roommate relationships fall victim to the same cohabitating vices. Yet, there is hope! Here are a few reliable roomie tips that could hold the key to making up before you break up.
• Make it Known. Don’t skirt the issue when it comes to describing your day-to-day activities. Before you sign a lease, it’s important for your roommate to understand your schedule to avoid conflicts later. If you are an “early to bed, early to rise” kind of person, a roommate who works on mixing his DJ tracks at night may not be your best bet, no matter what kind of parties you could get into.
• Talk It Out. Working to communicate your needs and expectations to one another is crucial for a happy roommate relationship. For example, if your roommate is a student and wants to use the kitchen table to study, decide not to watch TV loudly in the same room during study hours. Likewise, if you’re hosting a small Bachelorette season finale party at your apartment, give your roommate fair warning to make other plans.
• Give a Little. As the adage goes, “Sometimes you have to give a little to get a little.” This saying is spot on when it comes to cohabitating. By speaking with your roommate about both of your priorities and interests, you can find the greatest common ground and meet somewhere in the middle. Giving a little on both sides shows mutual respect, which makes for an ideal living situation.
• R-E-S-P-E-C-T. One secret to roommate success is creating boundaries between public and private space. Bedrooms should generally remain off limits to the other roommate, and personal items should not be borrowed without permission. Make sure to talk with your roommate about what is meaningful to you and set clear boundaries together.
• Clean Up Your Act. As indicated by Rent.com’s survey, keeping clean is a must. While some people are naturally tidier than others, it’s important to divide cleaning responsibilities so the burden is shared. Be sure to discuss expectations for cleaning before you sign on the dotted line. Talk about who will clean what and how often, and what’s acceptable in terms of daily and weekly up-keep.
• Bills, Bills, Bills. Make sure you decide on when and how bills and rent will be paid for before making the roommate bond permanent. For instance, if one person is in charge of utilities, make the other in charge of submitting the rent check each month. Designating bills as a shared responsibility helps foster timeliness when it comes to deadlines.
July 11, 2012 5:44 pm
Master plan. Long-range, comprehensive guide for the physical growth or development of a community.
July 11, 2012 5:44 pm
A: This is a tough decision, but the answer will depend on your personal situation, as well as the condition of the local housing market.
If you put your home on the market first, you may have to scramble to find another one before settlement, which could cause you to buy a home that does not meet all your requirements. If you cannot find another home, you may need to move twice, temporarily staying with relatives or in a hotel.
On the other hand, if you make an offer to buy first, you may be tempted to sell your existing home quickly, even at a lower price.
The advantage of buying first is you can shop carefully for the right home and feel comfortable with your decision before putting the existing home on the market.
On the flip side, the advantage of selling your existing home first is that it maximizes your negotiating position because you are under no pressure to sell quickly. It also eliminates the need to carry two mortgages at once.
Talk with your agent for advice. Discuss the pros and of each and whether certain contingencies written into the contract can ease some of the pressures.
July 10, 2012 5:42 pm
From the box-office smash “The Avengers” to the summer hit “Madagascar 3” reigniting the 3-D craze, movie lovers are more enthralled than ever with film magic, and many fantasize about becoming a part of it. Their annual Westward migration from every film and acting and writing school in the country is as active as ever as they seek their chance to wield the Hollywood wand.
In such a competitive and crowded circus tent, how can a person ensure they catch that elusive trapeze?
Here are five tips from film director Guy Magar, picked up over 30 years making movies and TV shows and teaching through Action/Cut Filmmaking Seminars, the educational course he founded. Magar is also the author of the new Hollywood memoir and love story, Kiss Me Quick Before I Shoot, about his years in Hollywood which is a must-read for all who love movies.
• Find out if you really love it. “The movie business demands passion and dedication; the work is difficult and exhausting, the journey fraught with disappointments and financial stress,” he says. “So you better find out if this is truly something you want and you’re ready to sacrifice whatever it takes.” The best place to do that is at a film school or a university filmmaking program. “This is where I fell in love with the cinema and forged my commitment to the craft,” he says.
• Find out if you’re any good at it. When you discover that less than 5 percent of the 125,000 actors in the Screen Actors Guild ever make a livable wage in any one year, the reality check about how competitive this business is can be quite intimidating, Magar says. So it’s not enough to love it – you have to have an aptitude for the craft if you want a chance at bat. “You better be one of the very best directors or writers or cameramen or actors wherever you’re studying and developing your work, so you can gain the self-confidence to throw your talent in a very crowded ring,” he says.
• Get your showreel ready! No one is going to hire you unless they can see what you can do. For a director, you better have an award-winning “wow” short. If you’re a writer, have some dazzling, unique screenplays. Actors need a great reel with diverse scenes showing range from comedy to drama. Cameraman? You need a reel that sizzles with cinematic visuals. Don’t come to Los Angeles without a reel. It shows who you are, what you can do — and why you’re worth paying to do it.
• Networking! Networking! Networking! “The movie business is first and foremost a people business,” Magar says. “Regardless of your talent, you better be good at schmoozing and an extrovert at heart.” It’s all about who you know, who can introduce you to whom, who likes you, who is willing to help you move forward, he says. If you’re a great networker, you have a better chance at a career than if you’re talented with no social skills. Introverts do not apply!
• Enjoy your journey or the dream will be a nightmare. Don’t put off having a life until you “get there,” he says. The big secret is to enjoy the journey and to have a life in the industry, regardless of the amount of work and accolades that may or may not come your way. You must commit to making a fulfilling life for yourself if you’re to find happiness in Tinseltown. Family, friends and a soulmate are as important and fulfilling as career gains. “They will sustain you in much deeper emotional ways than winning a spot on a softer toilet paper commercial,” he says.
Magar says his career in Hollywood was an exciting, gratifying one. “Between the words ‘action’ and ‘cut’, I get to make my magic … my visual storytelling,” he says. “I fell in love with making movies and have continued loving it for more than 100 production credits in my career.”
“If you share that passion to make film, have a terrific sense of humor to balance the obstacles, and can manage the five tips above, then welcome to Hollywood. Break a leg!”
Film and TV director/writer/producer Guy Magar has worked for more than 30 years in the motion picture industry. He recently published his Hollywood memoir, “Kiss Me Quick Before I Shoot: A Filmmaker’s Journey into the Lights of Hollywood and True Love.”
July 10, 2012 5:42 pm
Was your home damaged by a recent storm? Are you unsure of what steps to take next? Before you start stomping those puddles in your basement, review the following steps to help ease the process of dealing with your damages, and insurance.
Document Damage. The first step should be to carefully document all damage with photographs. These will be necessary to prove the extent of the damage, both to home insurance adjustors and the IRS if the homeowner is eligible for tax deductions as a result of uninsured losses.
Contact Insurance. At the same time, homeowners should contact their homeowners insurance company to make sure they understand what is covered and what is not. For example damage caused to your home by a falling tree is usually covered. However many policies do not cover the removal of a tree that fell into your yard but didn’t damage your home.
Are You Covered? Flood coverage is another area that is often misunderstood. Most standard flood insurance only covers damage caused by rising waters from a river, creek, lake or pond. It doesn’t cover such things as water backups caused by overflowing drain pipes, or when the drain in a basement stairwell gets clogged with debris, causing water to fill the stairwell and come in under the basement door.
“That once happened to me during a big storm,” says AHF President Bruce Hahn. “After I learned that the extensive damage to our finished basement was not covered by our insurance policy, I reconsidered how much I could afford to spend out of my own pocket to repair the damage.” Homeowners shouldn’t commit to expensive repairs until they learn what is covered and what isn’t, and the terms of the coverage of things that are.
Bring in a Professional. Finding a qualified contractor after a major event is another challenge. In the real world of supply and demand, reliable contractors often quickly get booked well into the future, and their rates often go up as well. At the same time, con men and amateurs start coming out of the woodwork. An amateur may be a decent carpenter, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good electrician, plumber, or roofer. The risk to homeowners of being ripped off by a dishonest contractor or receiving shoddy work that might not pass muster with the building inspector increases dramatically.
Homeowners should take the same steps to protect themselves that they would if they were planning a major home remodeling project. Check the contractor’s credentials carefully. Are they licensed and insured for workers compensation, property and personal liability? If in doubt, ask to see their insurance certificate. Do they belong to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers Council, and/or any of the more specific trade associations in the remodeling sector? That's not a guarantee, but it is a sign of commitment to their trade and to professionalism. Ask for recent references on similar jobs (employee and subcontractor turnover is often fairly high, so recent jobs is the indicator of their current capability). Check their record with the Better Business Bureau while you're at it.
Make sure you get a comprehensive bid. It should detail as many of the specifications as possible. Try to get bids from three or more contractors, which is sometimes difficult to do when demand is high. If one of the bids is unusually low, make sure that they have included everything.
If the bids are higher than expected and too much for you to afford, you might be surprised how much money you can save if you’re at least semi-handy and can do some of the work yourself. Things that come up near the end of the job, such as painting, trim carpentry, etc. are good bets since the other parts aren't dependent on their completion. Some finish work can even be done after the home inspector’s final approval of the work. But make sure you're not getting into something you don't have time to do.
One of the most important suggestions is to use a comprehensive written contract. It will greatly reduce the likelihood of disputes with your contractor. Make sure the contract covers the description of the project, timetable, payment schedule, etc., and has general provisions defining the responsibility of the contractor and the subcontractors, defects and correction, change order procedures, warranties, right to termination, and alternative dispute settlement mechanisms (since many of the costs of lawsuits are for legal fees, homeowners and contractors will almost always be better off with mediation, conciliation, and/or binding arbitration clauses should a disagreement arise). Some contractors use their own standard contract forms, but read the provisions carefully before signing them. If you feel some of the provisions in their contract are unreasonable, ask them to make reasonable modifications.
Never hire a contractor by signing a brief proposal or worse yet, on a handshake. You can also hire an attorney to draw up a contract that includes the aforementioned provisions to protect you. Another alternative is to use the American Homeowners Foundation’s standard six page remodeling and repair contract, which is available on the AHF website. It contains these protections and fill in the blank areas for the specifics of your job.
If you take all the right steps, you can make the best of a bad situation. If you don’t, you’ll be asking for headaches and trouble.
July 10, 2012 5:42 pm
Buying a car is complicated, and figuring out your loan—and what you can afford—is a crucial step. Below is some advice on calculating potential auto loan payments that will keep consumers on budget by identifying the car, and monthly loan payment, they can actually afford.
It's a whole new post-recession lending era for the hundred million+ Americans that now fall into the below-prime credit category; especially for those that want to jump into the summer new-car buying season, when automakers offer incentives to clear 2012 models off the lot. Credit lines are opening up, interest rates for less-than-prime buyers are lowering and loan terms are getting longer, making monthly payments more manageable.
"Buying a new vehicle, and sticking to on-time monthly payments, is one of the top weapons in building back a credit score, but correctly figuring out that payment can be challenging," says CarFinance.com president and CEO Jim Landy.
Top Tips for Calculating Loan Payments
- Monthly Payment: Understand what level of monthly payment you can afford by doing a detailed, hyper-honest budget-setting exercise. Take your monthly income minus all payroll tax or estimated monthly tax deductions, then subtract everything: monthly mortgage payments or rental costs, credit card and other loan payments, health and car insurance (calculating how much more the latter will be with the new car) and get serious about estimating real-world living expenses (from food to fun, etc.) by looking at the last 6 months of your real spending (bank statements, withdrawals, checks, etc.) from your monthly income. What is left over is what you can afford each month.
- Know Your APR Upfront: The higher the APR (Annual Percentage Rate - the cost you will pay on the loan, including your interest rate), the higher the monthly payment – and the more you will ultimately pay for the car. Waiting until you get to the dealership to find out your APR could mean you drive off in a vehicle that you can't afford. The good news is that today you can get pre-approved online for a loan in minutes, providing you with key numbers, including your APR, to help you make a rational decision on which cars you should be looking at.
- Length of Loan: Determine how long it will take to pay off your loan based on the monthly payment you can afford and your APR. For a given amount financed, the lower your monthly payments, the longer the term of your loan, but the longer the term, the more interest you pay, meaning you will ultimately pay more for your vehicle. Calculate what you will be paying overall to determine if you are willing to pay extra in the long run in order to pay less each month, or if you should look at a lower-priced vehicle.
- Rebates vs. Rates: Understand the difference between the benefit of a cash rebate versus lower monthly interest rate before including it in your calculations. In many instances, you have the option of a manufacturer cash rebate or a low APR. While a low APR sounds enticing, remember that a cash rebate decreases the price of the vehicle, thereby lowering the amount you need to borrow, reducing your interest expense and less overall money spent in the long run. If you trade your vehicle in early, you can lose much of the benefit of the low interest rate. Plus if you have less than perfect credit you may not be eligible for the low interest rate anyway.
- Total Price of the Vehicle You Can Afford: This is the holy grail and to calculate this using one of the many calculators you can find online, you will need to allow for your down payment, monthly payment, APR, and the realistic price of the vehicle you are interested in, as well as trade-in (be sure to do your research to get a realistic sales price, whether you are selling the car yourself or trading in), rebates, sales tax, and loan term. You also need to allow for title and licensing fees; a good rule of thumb is 10 percent to 15 percent on top of the selling price. But remember, fees vary by state, from as little as $50 to as much as several thousand dollars depending on the state and the value of the vehicle.
- Go Shop: Now that you know what you can afford, you can research online on sites like Edmunds.com to find vehicles that fit your budget. Many online sites offer a search by monthly payment or search by the amount you plan to spend; just be sure you are using the amount that you can afford and that their formulas take into account all the information you have accrued. Once you have found the vehicle that you can afford and want to buy, go ahead and get financed online so your conversation at the dealership is about the vehicle itself, and not the financing.
July 10, 2012 5:42 pm
Summer vacations may be fun, but they can be costly if you fail to prepare your home and property adequately. Burglars see vacations as an opportunity to target empty homes, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
There are more than 2.15 million burglaries each year, over 65 percent of which are residential break-ins. The FBI notes that the summer months of July and August have the highest rates of burglaries, usually about a 10 percent increase over other times of the year.
"Once in your home, a burglar can easily steal computer equipment, televisions, CD and DVD players, as well as jewelry and other valuable items," says Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson, I.I.I. "In fact, the average dollar loss per burglary is over $1,700."
However, criminals tend to be opportunists, notes Salvatore. If you make your home more difficult to break into, the crook will likely target another home. Research shows that if it takes more than four or five minutes to break into a home, the burglar will go elsewhere.
In addition to having the right insurance coverage, the I.I.I. offers these five preventive measures to keep your home safe:
- Make it time-consuming to break into your home. Dead-bolt window and door locks can slow a burglar down. You may also obtain a discount of 2 to 5 percent on your insurance policy for installing these devices.
- Make it noisy to break into your home. Invest in a burglar alarm. The most effective systems ring at an outside service, which alerts the police, fire department and other emergency services. A sophisticated alarm system could result in insurance discounts of 15 to 20 percent.
- Make sure you have strong doors. Outside doors and frames should be made of metal or solid hardwood and be at least 1 3/4-inches thick. Each door must fit its frame securely. Even the best lock will not deter a burglar if it is installed in a weak door. Garage doors also need strong locks. If you have a tool shed, keep it locked since burglars can use the tools to break into your home.
- Turn off your computer and disconnect it from the Internet. If you save personal information on your computer, make sure it is difficult to access. You don't want a hacker at work while you are on vacation.
- Keep valuables under lock and key and well hidden. Do not leave personal documents in your home office or desk--burglars know to look for them there. Put critical documents in a lock box or safe somewhere else in the house. Keep copies of important documents at another location--a relative's home, for example. Expensive jewelry should also be hidden somewhere other than the bedroom or left in a safety deposit box at the bank.
As you prepare to leave on vacation follow these additional steps:
- Keep your home well lit. Mount exterior lights out of reach of would-be burglars in your yard or on your house. Put indoor lights on a timer so that they go on and off at appropriate times, making it look as if the house is inhabited.
- Make the house look inhabited. Leave blinds or curtains open in their usual position. Put indoor lights on a timer. If you are going to be away for an extended period, arrange to have your lawn mowed in the summer and your driveway shoveled in the winter.
- Arrange to have mail picked up or held by the post office. Stop newspaper deliveries and ask a neighbor to pick-up "throw-away" circulars.
- Ask a neighbor for help. Ask a neighbor you trust to keep an eye on your home while you are gone. You may also want to tell your local police you will be away.
- Only tell people you know and trust that you are going away. Be careful not to discuss your vacation plans at the supermarket or hairdresser or other public places where you don't know who may be listening.
Standard homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for theft of personal possessions and damage to the home caused by the break-in. With replacement cost coverage, which is only about 10 percent more than actual cash value coverage, damaged property is replaced without deducting for depreciation.