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
June 15, 2012 4:34 pm
A: You most certainly can. During the most recent refinancing boom, for example, many homeowners refinanced their home loans two or three times within relatively short periods of time because interest rates kept treading downward, making it extremely attractive to trade in one loan for another.
Just remember that refinancing is basically like applying for a mortgage all over again. Each time you refinance, you will still have to go through the application process, get a home appraisal, and likely incur closing costs. Also, if you have a pre-payment penalty clause in your present mortgage, you will have to pay that penalty if you refinance. So be certain that it is actually worth it for you to refinance.
June 14, 2012 6:34 pm
Early summer is traditionally the time when most colleges and universities are sending out financial aid letters to the families of incoming high school graduates and returning students.
Unfortunately, notes CBS MoneyWatch correspondent Lynn O’Shaugnessy, many of these letters are confusing at best, not clearly spelling out what your student’s aid package is actually worth or how much the family will be expected to contribute.
O’Shaugnessy points out four things a family should look for when reviewing a financial award letter:
• Grants and scholarships – This is money that will not have to paid back. A good financial aid package will include a healthy portion of grants and scholarships.
• Cost of attendance – Annual cost is one of the critical things you need to know to determine how good the financial aid package is – but some schools do not include the total cost of attendance (tuition, books, room/board and fees, such as health fees) in the financial aid letter. Be sure these costs are itemized.
• Watch out for loans - The only loans in an aid package should be government loans with more favorable terms that families qualify for due to their lower incomes. Such as subsidized Stafford loans. Some schools will try to make their aid offering look better by including PLUS loan for parents or an unsubsidized Stafford loan, which are available to parents of all incomes and will need to be repaid.
• Family contribution - You won't know if your award is a generous one unless the letter includes what the parents and the child are expected to contribute. These contribution figures will be based on the calculations that are generated when a family files for financial aid. There should be a line in the letter stating what a school expects the child to contribute (it will be minimal) and what the parent(s) must contribute.
If any of this information is not conclusive, parents should contact the school for clarification before accepting.
June 14, 2012 6:34 pm
Between spring cleaning and summer inspiration, it’s not uncommon to be bitten by the remodeling bug this time of year. And thanks to popular home improvement shows and the ever-growing “DIY” movement, you might be tempted to hit the hardware store and start hammering, painting, or grouting this weekend. But before you jump in with power tools blazing, Dan Fritschen, author of Remodel or Move?TM Make the Right Decision and founder of www.remodelormove.com, has a few things for you to consider.
It’s a good time to think ahead to winter. You might not want to contemplate winter’s chill while you bask by the pool, but according to Fritschen, it’s a good idea.
“Plan now for ‘winter’ remodels like replacing a furnace, adding insulation, or getting more efficient windows or siding added,” he recommends. “Most people aren’t focused on these types of projects during the summer, so you’ll have a better chance to get a good deal and to schedule the work at your preferred time.”
You can soak up the sun while adding curb appeal. You might not think about your yard when you consider remodeling, but the fact is, curb appeal is important! What your yard looks like and how it is landscaped influences how others (and you!) perceive your home in general.
“For obvious reasons, summer is ideal for landscaping, planting, putting in patios and walkways, and more,” Fritschen says.
The long sunny days can save you money and power your home. If you’ve been considering adding solar panels to your home, now’s the time. Prices for solar panels are at super low prices—as little as $1 per watt for 200-watt panels—so for $2,000 you can buy panels that can generate 2 kw of power during peak sunshine periods (like this summer!).
“Buying that 2 kw of power in the example above would cost you about 24 cents per hour according to the Energy Information Administration,” points out Fritschen. “And while installing a full solar system will cost more than $2,000, when all is said and done, with all the rebates and the benefits to the environment and your pocketbook, it is still a good investment. The lower cost of the solar panels and the long sunny days of summer make generating power from the sun smarter than ever.”
You might just dig up a sweet deal. Yes, the economy is (slowly) getting better, but it’s nowhere near the remodeling heyday of 2007, so contractors and retailers are working hard to win your business.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to find discounts of 10 percent or more on many materials and appliances for your remodel. Plus, even though summer is a busy season, many contractors are bidding their best prices in an attempt to get back to the business levels they had prior to the economic slow-down.
This could be a good time to take an interest in interest. Right now, most of us aren’t thrilled with the economy, including the fact that interest rates are at historical lows. It’s likely that if you have cash in a savings account, you probably aren’t earning very much right now. So why not use that money on a new kitchen or finished basement that you’ll enjoy every day?
“Also, if you’re borrowing to pay for your remodel, then take advantage of the lower interest rates on mortgages and other types of loans,” recommends Fritschen.
And on the subject of money, here’s another interesting thing to consider: “203k FHA loans enable you to borrow on the value of your home after the remodel is complete,” Fritschen shares. “Having just a single loan for the purchase of a home plus the cost of repair/renovation can be a huge money saver.”
June 14, 2012 6:34 pm
You start your morning running late and sprint into your local coffee shop for your morning cup of joe. As you breathlessly place your order, you notice the barista doesn’t smile at you. She utters a flat, “Here you go” as she hands you the steaming cup—Why didn’t she put the cardboard sleeve around it? you wonder irritably—and moves on robotically to the next customer. As you bolt for the door, hands burning, you think Well, she was unfriendly…when did customer service get so terrible?
It’s true, says Ron Kaufman: As the way our society does business has changed, customer service in general has fallen into crisis mode. But in the case of the rude barista, ask yourself this: Did you look her in the eye? Did you say “good morning”? Did you say “please” or “thank you”? In short, how much of the bad service experience do you have to own?
“Often, we get poor service because we’re poor customers,” says Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet. “It’s a two-way street. When we’re rude or impersonal to service providers, we get rude and impersonal treatment back. This creates low expectations on both sides, which affects our next service interactions.”
In other words, bad customer behavior breeds bad customer service, which breeds bad customer behavior…and so on. To break the cycle and do your part to create uplifting service, be what Kaufman calls a “service champion”—someone who takes responsibility for uplifting other people’s experience, even when those other people are serving you.
“The crisis we’re facing has a lot to do with the way companies think about service,” says Kaufman. “They tend to silo it in one department rather than making great service a part of their overall culture, and that just doesn’t work in our global economy. Customers can’t do a lot about this, except take their business somewhere else. But what they can control is whether or not they contribute to the traffic of goodwill that flows equally between customers and service providers.”
In other words, he says, when you are an appreciative and considerate customer, service providers will often go the extra mile to serve you better. But if you rant and pound the table, people may serve you grudgingly, if at all.
Read on for proven steps you can take to be a better customer and enjoy receiving better service:
Be appreciative and polite. Remember, there is a fellow human being on the other end of your phone call, the receiving side of your email, or just across the counter. “Begin each interaction with a quick, ‘Hi. Thank you for helping me. I really appreciate it,’” advises Kaufman. “This takes about two seconds and can dramatically improve the mood of a service provider.”
Get your service provider’s name and use it. You can make this short and friendly by first offering your name and then asking, “Who am I speaking with, please?” Or if you are face-to-face, simply ask, “May I know your name?” “Once you know it, repeat it with a smile in your voice,” says Kaufman. “This creates a personal connection and makes it much harder for a service provider to treat you like an anonymous account holder or policy number.”
Be upbeat. Many service providers face customer after customer all day long. The routine can become tiresome. “When an energetic and smiling customer appears, that person often enjoys special care and treatment in return,” notes Kaufman. “What you send out does come back. Attitudes—positive and negative—really are contagious.”
Provide information just the way they want it. Many service providers need your data in a sequence that fits their forms, screens, and procedures. “Have all your information ready to go, but give it in the order they prefer,” advises Kaufman. “Saying, ‘I have all my information ready. Which would you like first?’ lets the provider know you are prepared and will be easy to work with. The time you take getting everything in order will save time in the service conversation, too.”
Confirm next actions. Repeat what your service provider promises to do. Confirm dates, times, amounts, responsibilities, and commitments. “This helps you move together through the service process, catching any misunderstanding and correcting it along the way,” says Kaufman. “Be sure you both understand what will happen next: what they will do, what you will do, and what both parties have agreed to going forward.”
When appropriate, commiserate. Sometimes service providers let their frustration show. A slow computer, a previous customer, high call volume, pressure from a manager, or some unwelcome personal event may have upset them. “When you hear an upset tone, be the one to soothe it,” suggests Kaufman. “You might say, ‘It sounds like things are tough right now. I really appreciate your help.’ This brief moment of empathy can be an oasis in their world.”
Show your appreciation. A sincere “thank you” is always appropriate. “If your service provider deserves more, give more,” says Kaufman. “A nicely written compliment can make a huge difference in someone else’s day, or even career. And who knows? The person you praise today may serve you again tomorrow.
“If you want to take showing your appreciation a step further, ask the service provider how they’d like to be recognized. For example, a realtor might prefer a testimonial for her Web site over having you send a complimentary note to her manager. A younger service provider might love it if you Tweet about them while an older generation service provider mind find more value in a completed comment card. Show your appreciation in the way your service providers want to be appreciated; after all, they served you the way you wanted to be served!”
Spread the word. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in uplifting service that’s certainly true. The next time you receive uplifting service at your favorite coffee shop, at the hardware store, at the post office, wherever you are, ask the service provider if you can take their picture and then ask for their manager’s name and contact information. “Send the picture to the service provider’s manager with a message that reads, ‘This person’s service makes me admire and appreciate your organization.’” says Kaufman. “Expressing your satisfaction to their manager in this way will speak volumes to the service provider and will inspire not only the service you receive in the future, but the service they provide to all of their customers.”
“Keep in mind that while this advice will help you get better service from service providers, much of it can also be used to experience more joy and satisfaction from your relationships with your colleagues, friends, and other loved ones,” notes Kaufman. “What goes around really does come around.
“When you treat someone well, whether it’s your spouse, a vendor at work, or the person you meet at the coffee shop in the morning, he or she is more likely to step up and treat you well, too,” he adds. “We all live and work in a whole world of relationships based on service. As you uplift and upgrade the service you provide, the world will uplift you.”
June 14, 2012 6:34 pm
Installment payment. Periodic payment, usually monthly, of interest and principal on a mortgage or other loan.
June 14, 2012 6:34 pm
A: Many people flock to refinance while mortgage interest rates are low, particularly when rates are two percentage points below their existing home loans.
Other factors, like when to finance, will depend on how long you plan to hold on to your home and whether you have to pay considerable fees to refinance. It also will depend on how far along you are in paying off your current mortgage.
If you expect to sell your home shortly, you are not likely to recoup the costs you incurred to refinance. And if you are more than halfway through paying your current mortgage, you probably will gain little by refinancing. However, if you are going to own your home for at least another five years, that is probably long enough to recoup any refinancing costs and realize real savings as a result of lowering your monthly payment.
In fact, if it costs you nothing to refinance, you can gain even more. Many lenders will let you roll the costs of the refinancing into the new note and still reduce the amount of the monthly payment. Plus, there are no-cost refinancing deals available.
Contact your lender, and its competitors, before you refinance.
June 13, 2012 7:50 pm
Between spring cleaning and summer inspiration, it’s not uncommon to be bitten by the remodeling bug this time of year. And thanks to popular home improvement shows and the ever-growing “DIY” movement, you might be tempted to hit the hardware store and start hammering, painting or grouting this weekend.
“Yes, being motivated to re-do some aspect of your home is a wonderful feeling,” says Fritschen, author of Remodel or Move?TM Make the Right Decision and founder of www.remodelormove.com. “But as with all big projects, it’s always best to think a home remodel through and take all variables into account before you begin.”
If you have a remodel project in mind for this summer, read on for Fritschen’s insight on summer remodeling, and why this is the perfect time of year for many projects:
First, learn about the many advantages of remodeling in the summer:
It can happen while you’re gone: If you’re one of the many families who go to the beach, mountains, or Grandma’s house for a week or so during the summer, Fritschen suggests scheduling your remodel to coincide so that you’ll be out of the house while the job is done. The workers will have more space, you won’t have to worry about safety hazards and staying out of their way, and you’ll be able to come home to a new and improved house.
Long days = faster completion. Everybody loves long, warm summer evenings. And remodelers have another reason to be thankful for more daylight hours and warm weather: longer working days! “Mother Nature makes it so much easier to complete projects in a timely manner during the summer,” Fritschen confirms.
You can eat al fresco. Summer is a wonderful time to remodel kitchens in particular because you don’t have to use them in order to eat well. While your kitchen is transformed, fire up the outdoor grill and eat on your patio furniture. “You could even spread a quilt in the yard and have a good old-fashioned picnic!” Fritschen suggests.
If exposure is necessary, it’ll be friendly! The fact is, you can expose your house to the elements more safely in summer. Whether you have an open wall because you’re adding on to your house, are replacing windows, or just want to open the windows and doors so the new-paint smell isn’t overwhelming, summer is ideal.
“Temperature and inclement weather aren’t likely to be big concerns in many regions,” Fritschen says. “Plus, if things do get wet, the higher temperatures will help them dry out faster.”
You’re more likely to be inspired. For a variety of reasons, your creative inspiration might peak in summer. It’s a happy, colorful season that leaves many people feeling extra-energized and motivated.
“Also, you might be out and about more in the warmer weather,” points out Fritschen. “You’re more apt to get ideas both from other people’s homes and in stores. So if you think a remodel might be in the cards for you—this summer or in the future—be sure to keep your eyes open for inspiration.”
It’s easier to maintain neighborly relations. Even if you and your neighbors are the best of friends, loud, noisy construction in the neighborhood can be frustrating—not to mention having to deal with extra vehicles and (depending on the nature of the project) blocked-off sections of road. According to Fritschen, these annoyances are most likely to have minimal effect during the summer.
“People are least likely to be homebound during the summer,” he says. “Who knows? Maybe your neighbors will be on their vacation during your remodel. Plus, everyone else on the block is more likely to be engaging in noisy outdoor activities as well. Between the sounds of mowers and kids playing, for instance, maybe any extra noise from your lot won’t be noticed.”
You can go underground to beat the heat. If you’ve been wanting to work on your basement, do it now…especially if heat is an issue for you. Your basement will be cool but not freezing, which will definitely be the case if you wait till later in the year.
Keep an eye out for more of Fritschen’s tips, coming soon in Part 2!
June 13, 2012 7:50 pm
It's hard to pick a sunscreen. You approach the shelf and are tasked with choosing between at least 20 different tubes. Not only that, each has a different level of protection, a special scent, an application method, and the absence (or presence) of certain ingredients. What are you to do?
Last summer, the Food and Drug Administration tried to arm consumers with the tools to pick the best sunscreen possible. It planned to cap sunscreens at SPF 50, do away with "waterproof" claims, and warn consumers to look for UVA protection.
Yet, it's still confusing out there. But luckily, Consumer Reports has finally stepped in and issued its 2012 Sunscreen Buying Guide. It even rates the best sunscreens on the market. After extensive testing, the following are some of the magazine's top picks:
• No-Ad lotion with aloe & vitamin E, SPF 45
• Walgreens continuous spray sport, SPF 50
• Coppertone oil-free foaming spray, SPF 75+
• All Terrain Aqua Sport lotion, SPF 30
• Banana Boat clear ultra-mist sports performance active dry protect spray, SPF 30
• Coppertone sport high performance ultra sweat-proof spray, SPF 30
• Eco all natural sunscreen body lotion, SPF 30
Even if you choose the best sunscreen for your needs, Consumer Reports warns that you have not fulfilled your sun protection duties. It urges consumers to wear hats and cover-ups, check ingredients, spray carefully and reapply approximately every 2 hours. The sun's rays can cause cancer, so be careful out there this summer.
June 13, 2012 7:50 pm
(ARA) - Water and the summer months tend to go hand-in-hand - water skiing or fishing at a lake, taking a dip in a swimming pool and watering home-grown plants with a garden hose are among the season's most popular activities. Recent summers have also been some of the driest on record, prompting grass fires, drastically low lake levels and water utilities having to implement water restrictions on their customers.
The National Weather Service has predicted that states from Georgia to Texas to California and even the Hawaiian islands will see persisting and potentially intensifying drought conditions this summer. In addition to local droughts, water scarcity is a global issue. According to the United Nations' Water for Life campaign, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world's population, live in parts of the world where access to clean water sources is extremely difficult. Additionally, water around the world is unevenly distributed, taken for granted and wasted, polluted or unsustainably managed.
"Water scarcity and access to clean water are issues in the U.S. and around the world, but the good news is that we can all make a positive difference when it comes to saving water," says Caitlin Feehan, environmental engineer with MWH Global, a water-focused engineering consulting firm. "While climate change, population growth and tendency to waste resources are impacting the world's water, there are small steps each of us can take to conserve water every day."
So how can you positively impact water usage inside and outside your home? Here are five simple tips for the summer months:
• Start with smart landscaping decisions. Adjust your lawn mower to a higher setting - longer grass shades the root systems and holds moisture in soil better than shorter grass. Also, consider composting kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and garden waste to retain more water, reduce erosion and even decrease weed growth.
• Water your yard responsibly. When summer temperatures heat up, water your lawn in the mornings to reduce water loss from evaporation. You can also set your sprinklers to a lower pressure. Why? Higher pressure creates a fine mist that evaporates faster or will blow away, thus wasting water.
• Start your day by showering with a low-flow showerhead. Low-flow showerheads limit the water flow to around three gallons per minute as compared to twice that for a normal showerhead. Pick one up at a local home improvement or hardware store. If you're remodeling a bathroom, you can look at other water- and energy-saving gadgets like tank-less water heaters or low-volume flush toilets.
• Reduce the amount of water that runs down drains. It's estimated that 95 percent of water that flows through a home runs down the drain, but simple steps like turning off the running water while brushing teeth or washing hands until it's time to rinse decreases water waste. Consider collecting some of this water when there may be another use for it, such as watering a plant. Also, rather than running cold water from the tap until it's cold enough to quench your summer thirst, refill and store a pitcher of water in the refrigerator.
• Save water and energy in the laundry room. Reduce water waste by running a washer only when it's full. Using cold water also reduces the amount of energy used and conserves hot water for other household needs that require it. Need a new washer? According to ENERGY STAR, the average American family washes almost 300 loads of laundry each year, but can significantly reduce energy and water usage by purchasing ENERGY STAR-qualified products. For example, a full-sized ENERGY STAR qualified washer uses 14 gallons of water per load, nearly 50 percent less water than a standard machine.
"Summer is the perfect time to evaluate how we use water as part of our daily routine," says Feehan. "Water is our planet's most precious resource that we can all conserve for future generations by taking smart, simple steps today."
For more information on water savings tips this summer and information on incentives or rebates in your area, check with your local water utility.
June 13, 2012 7:50 pm
Neighbors can be the greatest people in the world, or they can be your worst enemies. But the reality is that most neighbors fall somewhere in between -- yes, even if you think you love them.
There are dozens of ways your neighbors can hurt you or your property value without ever letting it be known. That's not even including the usual ways, such as noise and failing to maintain their homes. Consider the following five examples.
1. Using your Wi-Fi. If you haven't put a password on your Internet, do it now. If your neighbor logs onto your network and downloads child porn or copyrighted content, you may be on the hook. The authorities (and record companies) will force you to spend a lot of money explaining that it wasn't you.
2. Stealing your land. Little known is the concept of adverse possession. If your neighbor plants bushes or erects a fence or driveway on your property, those few inches (or feet) will eventually become theirs. Be vigilant about property lines so your neighbors can't hurt you.
3. Fences. In some jurisdictions, both neighbors are responsible for the upkeep of shared fences. If your neighbor isn't fulfilling his duty, you may end up paying for half a replacement fence.
4. Bed bugs. This is one of the worst ways neighbors can hurt you. If you live in a condo, duplex or row house, they'll infest everything. And unfortunately, it's very hard to pinpoint their source, so everyone may end up being responsible for remediation.
5. Trees. When a branch hangs over into your yard, the tree is technically encroaching upon your property. You arguably have a right -- and duty -- to cut some branches so the tree isn't so side-heavy. If you don't, and they fall and cause damage, the injured party may try to hold you responsible. Ouch.