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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Tom's Blog

Home Inspections: When and Why

May 8, 2012 6:08 pm

I am taking this opportunity to pass along some sound advice on home inspections from Chuck Gillooley, a REALTOR® from San Carlos, Calif. (whiteoaksblog.com). Gillooley noted that homebuyers in the region where he works have grown accustomed to paying to have a home inspected prior to purchasing it — especially because the majority of homes were built in the 1940s and '50s. Gillooley says it has become such a standardized practice in real estate transactions, that even the sellers of the home will conduct their own inspections prior to listing it on the market just so that they know what the buyer’s inspector is likely to find.

This allows the seller the option to either fix known problems in advance, or adjust the listing price accordingly because of the known anomalies. Gillooley says the two most common inspections that buyers conduct prior to moving forward with the purchase of a house are a Wood Destroying Organisms Inspection (aka Pest Inspection), and a Property Inspection

The pest inspection looks for pest infestation, such as termites and beetles, as well as any wood damage caused by water intrusion, according to Gillooley. The property inspection is a “catch all” that assesses the overall functionality of the house—from appliances, to electrical distribution to visible plumbing.

With these two inspections, a buyer gets a pretty good idea of the condition of the house that they’re contemplating purchasing. Gillooley says there are more in-depth inspections that can be done on the roof, or foundation, or the plumbing system if the property inspector recommends further investigation.

But it’s safe to say that most homebuyers will only do pest and property inspections before making their decision. In our next segment, we'll key in on one of those specialty inspections Gillooley believes may be critical to fully protect a homebuyer's investment.
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Bank Account Not Ready for Summer? Try a Staycation

May 8, 2012 6:08 pm

Is your travel account looking a bit slim this year? No worries. Consumers across the country are planning staycations, which allow them to stay in the area while still enjoying the fun and relaxation of a vacation. Staycationers stay in the area to save both money and time. Nearly one out of two consumers plans a staycation to deal with fewer travel-related hassles and spend more quality time with family and friends. 

Consumers on staycations like to spend time at pools, parties and eating out, and the majority of them plan their local adventures to save money and avoid high gas prices, according to a recent survey of consumers at Pentair Aquatic Systems' social community, poolfyi. 

While the idea of a staycation varies among families, the survey's results indicate that "people enjoy many of the same activities on their staycations -- and their first choice is finding the nearest pool or spa," said Carlos Del Amo, VP of global marketing at Pentair Aquatic Systems, a manufacturer of pool and spa equipment. 

When it comes to staycations, consumers like to stay active: one out of three staycationers will tend to house or garden work, hit the beach, plan a road trip, catch a movie—or visit a local venue such as a museum. 

"Staycations clearly aren't all about savings," Del Amo said. "People see staycations as a great way to maximize their precious time off." 

Consumers also use their staycations to catch up on everyday leisure. One out of four staycationers reads, cooks or plays sports, the poolfyi survey found. 

The staycation survey was conducted online over one month at Pentair's poolfyi. The survey asked respondents to select their favorite staycation activities and their reasons for planning a staycation. 

Top 15 Staycation Activities of 2012
1. Spend time at a pool or spa (78 percent)
2. A party or family gathering (44 percent)
3. Eating out (43 percent)
4. House or garden work (38 percent)
5. Beach (36 percent)
6. Local exploring or road trip (35 percent)
7. Movies (34 percent)
8. Visit a local venue (museum, zoo, etc.) (32 percent)
9. Reading (29 percent)
10. Cooking (26 percent)
11. Sports (running, hiking, etc.) (24 percent)
12. Shopping (22 percent)
13. Camping (17 percent)
14. Picnic (13 percent)
15. Games (12 percent)

Top 5 Reasons for a Staycation in 2012
1. Greater savings (60.5 percent)
2. High gas prices (60.1 percent)
3. Less hassle (48 percent)
4. More quality time (47 percent)
5. More options (17 percent)

Source: http://poolfyi.com/
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Top Camping Destinations across the Globe

May 8, 2012 6:08 pm

Warm weather means summer, and summer means outdoor fun and family time. To help those who believe sleeping under the stars is part of the ritual of summer, the team at Cheapflights.com compiled ten ideal camping destinations across the world. 

Below are the five idyllic North American sites to make Cheapflights.com's list of Top 10 Camping Destinations across the Globe. 

• Pacific Rim National Park Reserve - Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada - Encompassing three major regions -- Long Beach, The Broken Group Islands and the West Coast Trail -- Pacific Rim National Park is an exciting destination for camping enthusiasts. Set your site up in the wilderness -- along the sandy beach or in a formal campground with fellow adventure travelers -- and get ready for world-class hiking, swimming, kayaking and even surfing. 

• Glacier National Park - Montana, United States - Glacier National Park sweeps across the U.S.-Canada border, taking over two mountain ranges, hundreds of lakes, and an incredible array of flora and fauna. Camping in the park is on a first-come, first-served basis, so visitors should reserve campsites well in advance. The wait is definitely worth it. Fly-fishing is a popular pastime, but if you love to hike, there are upwards of 700 miles of exciting trails. 

• Haleakala National Park - Maui, Hawaii, United States - Most might head to the nearest beach resort in Maui, but for the adventure traveler, we suggest pitching a tent in Haleakala National Park. The highlight of the park is the Haleakala volcano, which offers a great space for stargazing, hiking and watching the sunrise. Farther into the park is the rainforest region of Kipahulu, where visitors can hike to the Waimoku Falls and swim the pools of Ohe'o. Cabins are also available in the park through a lottery system. 

• Jasper National Park - Alberta, Canada - The largest of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, Jasper National Park was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. It is now a hot destination for visitors looking to camp, hike, raft, kayak and fish. There are plenty of campgrounds to choose from, all of which have firewood and bear-proof lockers. Insider tip: Make time to visit the Miette Hot Springs and the Athabasca Falls. 

• Denali National Park - Alaska, United States - Alaska is known as America's last frontier, and Denali is at the center of this incredible oasis. Visitors can stay at one of seven campgrounds throughout the park and bear witness to a pristine landscape with glacial mountain ranges, alpine forests and clear rivers and lakes. The wildlife in Denali is rampant with black bears, grizzlies, moose, sheep, marmots, wolves and loads of other animals. 

Source: http://news.cheapflights.com/top-10-camping-destinations-across-the-globe.
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Top 5 Tips for Buying A Diamond Ring

May 8, 2012 6:08 pm

If you are in the market for a diamond engagement ring, some buying tips have changed mightily over the past few years – but other traditional buying advice remains as important as ever.

According to long-time New Jersey jeweler Salim Shamy, here are the top five things to know before you fork over the big bucks for a diamond ring: 

1) Ignore the old three-month salary rule – Standard advice for many years was to spend up to three months’ salary on a diamond. Today’s consumers are spending about 10 percent of annual salary – an average of $5,392 – for the diamond of their dreams. Don’t go beyond your ability to spend, but be sure to get the best buy no matter what you spend.
2) Know the Four Cs – the Carat weight, the Clarity (lack of flaws), the Color, and the Cut of the stone remain the cornerstones for choosing a diamond. There is a universal grading system to help you make the best objective decision before you buy.
3) Cut may be primary – A diamond of a smaller carat size, but with an exquisite cut, can take on the appearance of a larger stone. So the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) advises using the diamond’s cut or shape as a major part of your decision.
4) Stone first, setting second – Because the diamond is the most important and expensive part of the purchase price, gem experts advocate choosing the stone first and then deciding on the setting – and bear in mind that pre-set rings are often more expensive.
5) Request certification – All diamonds should come with a document signed by a third party (such as the GIA) verifying the stone’s authenticity and description. A reputable jeweler will provide this without hesitation, so be sure to request the certification – not just for your peace of mind, but also for insurance purposes.
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Question of the Day

May 8, 2012 6:08 pm

Q: Should I lock in the mortgage rate?

 

A: Because the interest rate market fluctuates constantly and is subject to quick movements without notice, locking in a mortgage rate with a lender certainly protects you from the time your lock is confirmed to the day it expires.

 

Lock-ins make sense in a rapidly-rising rate environment or when borrowers expect rates to climb during the next 30 - 60 days, which is typically the amount of time a lock-in remains in effect.

 

A lock-in given at the time of application is useful because it may take the lender several weeks to prepare a loan application.  These days, however, automated loan practices have cut the time quite a bit.

 

Lock-ins are not necessarily free.  Some lenders require you to pay a lock-in fee to guarantee both the rate and the terms.

 

If your lock-in expires before you close on the loan, most lenders will base the loan rate on current market interest rates and points.

 

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Word of the Day

May 8, 2012 6:08 pm

Escrow. Money or documents held by a third party until specific conditions of an agreement or contract are fulfilled.
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What to Buy in May: Top Five Good Buys This Month

May 7, 2012 6:04 pm

Most confirmed shoppers know there are seasonal buys in almost every consumer goods sector—such as white sales in January and swim suits after the Fourth of July. The merry month of May, say the consumer goods’ trackers at Yahoo! Finance, may be the best time to find bargains in this list of wanted products: 

1. Mattresses – Surveys show the deepest discounts in mattresses occur in May, traditionally the time for heavy spring cleaning. Keep your eye on the ads because Sears and other retailers may be offering discounts of 50 - 60 percent.
2. Spring and summer apparel – With Spring Break over, all those shorts and cut-offs so wanted in April are already on sale at many retailers. You may find spring duds up to 75 percent off at stores like Gap, Old Navy and J. Crew, where many buyers are already focusing on fall fashions.
3. Ultra-portable laptops – If you’re looking for small screen size and portability, travel-friendly computers weighing less than four pounds - many of which debuted in January at the Consumer Electronics Show – are now on sale for as much as 25 percent off initial retail prices.
4. 3D TVs – These popular Television sets began falling in price last year and continue to fall now. In May, you should be able to find all-time low prices— as low as $699 – for 55-inch screen models.
5. Gym memberships – As the weather warms and people start running and taking more of their exercising outdoors, gyms are looking for a way to get us back inside. Look for unbeatable membership deals, attractive promotions, and heavily discounted introductory programs with zero initiation fees at gym locations around the country.
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Color Culture: Hottest Hue Trends for 2012-13

May 7, 2012 6:04 pm

What’s new with hue? Whether you’re looking to spice up your wardrobe or your decorating scheme, new colors have complex roots. Color forecasters take a long look at the world around us, analyzing and predicting which colors will most fit our state of mind in the new year. 

"Color trends occur more slowly in home furnishings, shifting only slightly from year to year," says Kris Woodcock, VP of Merchandising for Ashley Furniture. "Consumers also have long-standing favorite colors for home, making fresh, new combinations of colors as important as any one single hue. And since choosing a sofa color is riskier than picking a scarf color; our new colors are researched to ensure they'll be appealing over the long haul." 

Consumer color tastes are getting more sophisticated. Even neutral hues are moving beyond beige, gray and taupe to hues with complex undertones. Check out the newest color trends, as well as some best-selling hues expected to stay strong through 2012: 

• Linen. Word has it that linen is here to stay, getting stronger at every furniture and apparel market in Europe and North America alike. The trend to linen as a color is being driven by all things casually elegant - conjuring up nostalgic French laundry style, fabrics from a Belgian chateau or homes in southern France. Linen as color or texture is luxurious and unaffectedly natural. As a hue, linen recalls its namesake's most popular shade; a warm cream color that feels nostalgic and organic, whether mixed with soft floral patterns and stripes, or left perfectly alone. Look for linens in combination with nailheads and lighter woods in reclaimed, raw or heavily grained textures.
• Citrus & Kiwi. With global warming, farm-to-table cuisine and a healthier environment all hot-button topics, green has stayed at the forefront of both our eco-conscience and our home's decor. It seems Mother Nature's favorite hue refuses to disappear off the color trend radar. Fresh, yellow-infused greens are getting the most attention; they exude spring, youth, optimism and good health. But expect to see a widening range of green hues in 2012, including subtle shifts in the blue direction. No doubt darker greens will emerge again, but for now, lighter greens feel right for the times. We like kiwi and citrus as furniture hues. Both of these fashion-forward hues add an airy quality to an interior, especially when applied to tailored shapes. They also bring nature indoors and, as nature's neutral, work with just about any accent color -- from brown and blue to cream, silver, eggplant, tangerine and more.
• Russet. Orange has yet to regain its 1960s status, when rust-colored sofas perfectly complemented harvest gold shag rugs and avocado-colored appliances. But oranges are heating up again, especially in deep, spicy versions. Tangerine Tango, in fact, was Pantone's 2012 Color of the Year. And banish the belief that orange is better as an accent color. A quiet russet color is a stunning alternative to the ever-popular red sofa. With plenty of depth, it's ideal for home décor; both irresistibly inviting and instantly able to warm a room. Pair with other fall-inspired colors for accents.
• Steel. A few things are driving the gray trend today, including chic car finishes and all those steel-colored technical gadgets in our lives. But gray has come into its own as a remarkably chameleon-like color; able to be urban or rural and cool or warm, depending on its undertones and texture. Gray can be cool, professional, objective and uncomplicated, the color of corner offices and city concrete. It can also be warm and natural and mature, the color of weathered beach boards and a life well lived. For 2012, look for a vast range of grays from light to dark and cool to warm. Look for hues that move well beyond simple mixes of black and white to sophisticated versions with complex undertones. For home, we're excited about steel, a bluish gray that's chic and modern, especially when mixed with white or brown accents.
• Eggplant. Purple is one of today's hottest hues. Much evolved from its connection to royalty, teens and sentimental old ladies, it hasn't lost any of its rare, pretty or nostalgic qualities. Some believe this riveting hue is ideal for today's political, social and economic conditions; reflecting both a high level of emotional intensity and a desire to be unique. Hues inspired by dusk, berries, vineyards and vegetables will permeate palettes in 2012. We'll also see a trend to purple as a “neutral” color, with eggplant a perfect example. Slightly grayed down and deepened, it's a remarkably versatile hue for home décor. For a fresh, but livable look, pair it with a mix of white, sage and Concord grape hues. 

Source: AshleyFurnitureHomeStore.com.
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Children and Chores: 6 Keys to Getting Help around the House

May 7, 2012 6:04 pm

Frustrated by lack of help around the house? Your kids might actually think chores aren’t important to you. Why is that?

First, kids don’t see the need. Kids cruise along in their own little world and only notice a problem when it crashes into their happy mindset.

Second, we don’t teach how to help. Becoming aware of others’ needs doesn’t just happen. Children need to be taught.

And, third, we let kids off the hook. We sometimes think it’s unfair to ask for help. But your child wants to be helpful. By assigning chores, you let your child feel competent, capable and valued for her contribution.

Competence. That’s the “I did it myself” feeling. To feel this way, a child needs to know a task exists, what it takes to do it and how to tell when it’s done. The task has to have a recognizable beginning and end.

Capability. This is the feeling “I have valuable skills.” To feel capable, a task can’t be too easy. But this is where parents get tripped up. Instead of assigning a simple task, appeal to your child’s desire to do important things by giving her difficult tasks.

Contribution. “Does anyone care?” This is why cleaning the garage is more fun than cleaning one’s own room. A clean garage matters to other people. Cleaning one’s own room, not so much.

So… your plan of action looks something like this:

1. Think about your child. What does he like to do and what task would he think is difficult and grown up? The task will obviously change with the age of the child. 

2. Choose one task to start. The task should be something that can be repeated at regular intervals. It should be something that provides obvious clues that it’s “time” to perform the task. It should have obvious indicators that the task has been completed and completed well. For example, a five-year-old might be assigned the task of keeping the dog’s water bowl filled. A ten-year-old might have the job of collecting trash and setting it out for pick-up on “trash day.” And a teen might be asked to plan and prepare the family dinner every Wednesday night. 

3. Tell your child what you want her to do.
Your child is not a mind-reader. Talk with her about your need for help. Be sweet, be pleasant but be clear that doing the task is not optional. 

Tell her what – Tell her when or by when – Tell her how to tell when it’s done.
 
The ten-year-old might need to know which wastebaskets need emptying and how to get the trash bins safely to the curb. She will need to know when the trash trucks come by and if she is also responsible for retrieving the bins from the street or putting fresh liners in the wastebaskets. Help her know what goes into her job and how you want the finished task to look. 

4. Let your child decide how he’ll do the task. Ask your child how and when he thinks he will do it. If the task will be messy or if there are tricky parts, suggest ways to avoid these issues. Help him visualize doing the task and anticipate problems. 

The five-year-old who is filling the dog’s water bowl will need to know how frequently the bowl needs filling, what to do about cleaning the bowl, and how spills should be handled. But how he actually decides to do it – by carrying the bowl to the faucet or by carrying a pitcher of water to the bowl – is up to him. 

5. Step back and shut up. Will your child do the task the way you would do it? No. Will she make mistakes the first time? Yes. But you must let her own the task and find out for herself how to do it and how to do it better. 

Your teen may not fix dinner just the way you expect it. But hovering in the kitchen, giving advice, is not the way to go. And eat the meal that gets prepared with good grace. 

6. Thank, inquire and reassign. When the task is done, thank your child, no matter how poorly the result is. Then ask your child how the task went. Let the child say the job was not done very well if it wasn’t. Let her own the task and own the outcome. If you feel the need, suggest one improvement for next time. No matter how well or poorly the task was completed, reassign it for tomorrow or whenever the next reasonable time to do the task is. End on a happy note.

You might be thinking right now that this sounds like more bother than it’s worth. You’d rather do the jobs yourself….

And that’s been the problem all along. Because you haven’t taught your children how to do jobs, they haven’t learned to do them. They may even think you don’t really want them to do chores or don’t believe they can.

The main reason kids should do chores is not to get stuff done, though that’s nice. The main reason is to teach children responsibility and initiative. That’s why letting children decide when and how to do a task is important. That’s why letting kids evaluate their own work makes sense. And that’s why making children feel responsible for their tasks is so key.

What you’re doing here is developing attitudes and character. Do that and doing chores will come naturally. 

Source: Swparents.com
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Where Do Our Products Come From? It's a Small World, After All

May 7, 2012 6:04 pm

These days, a trip to the supermarket or drugstore is like a trip around the world. 

Many of the products you and your family buy, the medicines you use, and the foods you eat are from other countries. Did you know, for example, that 80 percent of our seafood and 80 percent of the active ingredients in medications consumed in the United States come from abroad? 

“Global Engagement”, a new, in-depth report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), tells how the agency works to ensure that the imported foods, medical products, and other goods it regulates meet the same high standards for safety and quality set for products manufactured domestically. 

The report was compiled to provide a face and voice to FDA’s global work, which includes overseas inspections and collaborations with governments in other countries, says FDA’s Mary Lou Valdez, associate commissioner for international programs. 

Rather than focusing on the efforts of one FDA office or center, the report describes for the first time—through data, charts, vignettes, quotes, and narratives—the global engagement efforts taking place across the agency. The report also explains some of the challenges that FDA faces in fulfilling its mission. 

“It truly is a different world for all of us working to ensure product safety,” says Valdez. “We had to recognize the complexity of the world in which we’re regulating.” 

From Farm to Fork 

Take food. FDA regulates most food products in the United States, from the lettuce you put in your family’s dinner salad, to the eggs and juice you serve for breakfast. As of 2011, roughly one in six FDA-regulated food products consumed in the United States comes from abroad. And the percentage is much higher in foods like fruits (about 50 percent) and vegetables (about 20 percent). 

So the agency—empowered by the Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law in 2011—is focusing its efforts on making sure that foods from other countries meet U.S. safety standards before they reach the United States, and your family’s dinner plates. Investigators with FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs travel the globe to inspect facilities that produce food bound for the United States. Additionally, FDA’s Office of International Programs has stationed investigators in multiple overseas posts to complement these inspection efforts. 

“Consumers around the world, not just in the United States, expect and demand safe food, no matter its source,” says Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. 

The Global Drugstore
These strategies also apply to medical products, which include prescription and over-the-counter drugs, biologics (like vaccines and tissue), and devices that range from tongue depressors to complex diagnostic tools. 

Forty percent of drugs—generic and prescription—consumed in the United States are now manufactured in other countries. 

Globalization of the medical product industry presents regulatory challenges from product development to final use by the consumer:
• The clinical trials of all medical products required for FDA approval are increasingly conducted abroad, adding the complexity of the review process.
• Many U.S. consumers can purchase medicines via the Internet directly from foreign sources, increasing their potential exposure to unsafe or ineffective medical products.
• Many medical devices are sold in nearly identical forms around the world but are known by different trade names, making it difficult to warn medical professionals and consumers about potential dangers. 

For more information, or to view this article in its original form, visit www.fda.gov.
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