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
January 20, 2012 6:58 pm
Q: Can I split my mortgage in two and pay biweekly?
A: The biweekly mortgage has become increasingly popular as more people favor paying off their home loan early and reducing interest charges.
Monthly payments on these loans are split in half, payable every two weeks.
Because there are 52 weeks in a year, you actually have 26 half-payments, or the equivalent of 13 monthly payments per year instead of 12.
Under the biweekly payment plan, a homeowner can save tens of thousands of dollars in interest and pay off their loan balance in less than 30 years.
January 19, 2012 6:56 pm
Trees, bushes, and plants come in many shapes, sizes and colors. That’s great in that it gives us lots of choices, but for a novice gardener with a fairly blank yardscape, the choices can be intimidating.
From a panel of new home owners, landscape gardeners, and a representative of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, here are some tips to keep in mind as you begin to choose greenery for your yard:
• Share your ideas – Show any initial drawings or tentative ideas to your local nursery or landscaper. A sketch of your yard’s shape and size, and ideas about where you might like shade trees, flower beds, fruit trees or ground cover can help them help you make decisions.
• Match trees to functions – Slow-growing trees take longer to provide shade, but they will last longer and be less prone to wind damage because they have stronger root systems. By the same token, a tree with a spreading root system planted too near a structure or cement block wall may eventually cause structural damage.
• Shape matters – The density of a tree’s leaves or needles is important. Dense evergreens, like spruces, make great wind breaks. Trees with more open branches and leaves may be better for filtering sunlight.
• Shrubs and hedges – When planting shrubs or hedges close to your house, plan for at least a foot between the hedge or shrubs and the house to prevent structural damage or problematic pruning later.
• Energy efficiency – A well designed landscape can add more than beauty to your home. It can help you save on heating, cooling, and water costs. Do some reading, and/or work with your nursery or landscaper to improve the soil, use mulch, and irrigate efficiently so that the plants you choose will grow and thrive in an eco-friendly environment.
January 19, 2012 6:56 pm
Looking to upgrade your bathroom? Hoping to boost your home value by turning that over-sized closet into a bathroom? Renovating can be daunting, but a little planning can go along way. Consider the following before you build:
• Build a Budget– Establishing a budget is always smart, from grocery shopping to car shopping. The same holds true to renovations. Bathroom remodeling costs vary greatly depending on what features you want, and how much you can spend. To create a budget, first educate yourself on the bathrooms in the homes in your area, so you know what you will need to bring yours to par—a key ingredient for a fast home sale. Even if you aren’t interested in selling now, you may be in the future and don’t want that walk-in shower or oversized Jacuzzi tub to be something you regret.
• Prioritize– With your budget in mind and neighborhood know-how, decide what type of bathroom renovation will best fit your needs. Perhaps a new tub and a fresh paintjob will do the trick. Or maybe you need to completely revamp from tile to toilet.
• Shop– Explore your options, talk to friends who have had renovations, and, if you’re budget is narrow, decide if there is any part of the job you can do yourself. Maybe you want to bring someone in for installations and tiling, but can paint the walls or add new light fixtures on your own. Think you’ve found a great company? Don’t rush into anything. Talk to several companies and contractors and take a look at their portfolios, ask for references and get price estimates.
Source: http:// http://www.searshomeservices.com.
January 19, 2012 6:56 pm
With temperatures around the country falling and rising rapidly, many are dealing with an excess of melted snow. A quick thaw can mean flooding and water damage, so preventative methods can go a long way.
Keep the following in mind:
• Remove large accumulations of snow from areas where it could melt and enter your home. Shovel snow away from the perimeter of your home. Also consider clearing decks, patios, and driveways that slope toward the house.
• Clean snow and debris from ground drains and gutters. Make sure drains near your home, typically around the driveway, as well as gutters are unblocked. Ice and compact snow can create dams that keep water from draining.
• Consider where snow will go when it melts. The combination of melting snow plus rain can create extreme runoff conditions. When shoveling snow on your property, think about which direction it will drain when it melts. You may want to dig channels to divert water to the nearest drain.
• Do not get on a ladder and do not attempt to climb onto your roof to remove snow. If you see the snow melting and dropping off the edge of your roof, that's a good sign. It indicates ice dams are probably not developing. In extreme circumstances, if ice dams need to be removed from your gutters, call a professional specializing in this service.
January 19, 2012 6:56 pm
Hosting dinner parties, brunches and events should be fun, but there's often so much to do that fun goes off the menu. By getting the guests involved, you can host a gathering and still have a good time.
Here are some tips for creating your own enjoyable and unforgettable gathering.
Make it potluck
Keep things simple and cut down on party prep time by asking guests to contribute a dish. Assign appetizers, salads and sides to your guests so that all you will need to prepare is the main dish. Perhaps ask some guests to contribute to the beverage selection as well.
Ensure that guests can reach food items on the buffet by propping up dishes with elevated platforms like tiered platters or cake stands. For an inexpensive solution, place a bowl upside down and cover with a vibrant or patterned cloth napkin before setting the food on top.
Stock the beverage bar
Be sure to designate an area for beverages and refreshments. Place pitchers of ice water flavored with strawberries or cucumbers for guests to enjoy throughout the event.
"Make sure your guests have everything they need to 'personalize' their after-dinner coffee by providing creative mix-ins for their individual cup. Flavored syrups like vanilla, hazelnut, and peppermint are always a hit, as well as fun toppings like ground cinnamon, chocolate shavings, caramel and whipped cream," says Jenn Sbranti, founder of Hostess with the Mostess. "For the finishing touch, include a few clever 'stir stick' garnishes—such as cinnamon sticks, rock candy, and tall pirouette cookies."
Set up interactive desserts
Create a self-serve station with ingredients for do-it-yourself desserts. Update a classic idea like an ice cream sundae bar by offering guests frozen yogurt and fresh fruit instead so they can create healthy parfaits. Another creative idea would be setting up a sweet and savory popcorn station, where guests can fill up small lunch sacks or gift bags with their favorite flavored popcorn and personal toppings. Prepare the sugary and savory popcorn bases (recipes available online) or buy premade sweetened and buttery popcorn. Then set out assorted toppings for the choosing -- savory options could include truffle oil, grated Parmesan, sea salt, dried herbs, and dry ranch or taco seasoning; for the sweet tooth, offer cocoa mix, apple pie spice, chocolate or peanut butter candies, and toffee-coated peanuts.
Send guests home with leftovers
Finally make post-party cleanup easier on yourself by offering guests leftovers at the end of the night. Purchase paper food containers beforehand so everyone can help themselves to their favorite foods to take home.
So whether you're planning a big dinner party or an intimate brunch, remember that sharing the host responsibilities and introducing DIY aspects to the occasion lets you reduce your own stress and enjoy more time with your guests.
January 19, 2012 6:56 pm
Title report. A statement of the current condition of title for a parcel of land.
January 19, 2012 6:56 pm
Q: Do I need an attorney to buy a home?
A: A lot depends on the state where the property is located. Some require an attorney; others do not.
Most homebuyers can generally handle routine real estate purchase contracts as long as they read the fine print and understand all the terms. But pay close attention to any clauses, contingencies, and other special considerations that will allow you or the seller to back out of the contract.
When in doubt, consult an attorney. Ask relatives and friends, or your real estate agent, for recommendations. Call to inquire about their fees and to check their level of experience. Expect that more seasoned attorneys will cost more.
January 18, 2012 4:52 pm
Tax season is upon us, and it’s time, notes MSN Money writer Jeff Schnepper, to take a look at the most common mistakes taxpayers make in their haste to complete their returns:
• Bad math – According to the Internal Revenue Service, simple errors in addition and subtraction are the number one mistake taxpayers make—next to mistakes in transferring figures from one schedule to another. If your error leads to a tax deficiency, you will be billed for what you owe. If you overpay, the excess is applied to future taxes or credited or refunded at your request. Either way, it can be a hassle, so check your figures at least twice.
• Forgetting interest and dividends – Interest and dividends are reported to the IRS by banks, brokerage houses and financial institutions. The IRS attempts to cross-check these figures with taxpayer reports, and they send out notices for unpaid taxes, interest and other unreported income. Unfortunately, about half the 10 million correction notices the IRS issues are incorrect or unclear. If you get a correction notice, follow instructions for contesting it or contact your local problem resolution office.
• Losing track of receipts – Keep a record of deductible receipts and checks for at least three years, because unless the IRS can prove fraud, the statute of limitations to disallow deductions is three years. After that, they are prohibited from questioning those figures. Separate receipts and checks by deductible category, because the easier you can make it for IRS auditors to check, the more they will accept you know what you are doing and make things easier for you.
• Forgetting to donate by Dec. 31 – Remember to donate your old clothes, furniture, etc. to charity by the end of the tax year because their wholesale value is allowable as a charitable deduction. Get a dated receipt and remember you can deduct allowable mileage costs for delivering the items yourself.
• Failing to claim tax credits – Tax credits come right off the amount you owe the IRS – so make sure your tax return includes all the tax credits you are entitled to for retirement savings, education costs, child and dependent care expenses, or earned income tax credits, to name a few. A worksheet in your tax return instruction sheet can help you calculate the proper credit amount.
January 18, 2012 4:52 pm
With the cost of many "Green" features including active and passive solar systems continuing to come down in 2012, we turned to the National Association of Home Builders to learn what homeowners should expect if they are planning, or seeking greater energy efficiency and money-saving systems.
According to the NAHB, passive solar design can reduce or eliminate the need for mechanical heating and cooling and daytime artificial lighting, with low maintenance risks over the life of the building.
Passive solar design does not need to be complex—given the proper building site, virtually any type of architecture can integrate passive solar design—but anyone engaged in such projects require a working knowledge of solar geometry, window technology and the local climate.
It takes more thought to design with the sun; however, passive solar features such as additional glazing, added thermal mass, larger roof overhangs, or other shading features can pay for themselves.
Just remember, passive solar design techniques may have a higher first cost but are often less expensive when the lower annual energy and maintenance costs are factored in over the life of the building. Passive solar design strategies vary by building location and regional climate, but the basic techniques remain the same—maximize solar heat gain in winter and minimize it in summer.
Specific techniques include:
• Start by using energy-efficient design strategies.
• Orient the house with the long axis running east/west.
• Select, orient, and size glass to optimize winter heat gain and minimize summer heat gain for the specific climate. Consider selecting different glazings for different sides of the house (exposures).
• Size south-facing overhangs to shade windows in summer and allow solar gain in winter.
• Add thermal mass in walls or floors for heat storage.
• Use natural ventilation to reduce or eliminate cooling needs.
• Use daylight to provide natural lighting.
January 18, 2012 4:52 pm
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, only one out of every two new start-ups survives after the first five years of business. That means that half fail, many times due to financial missteps.
Cash flow is a major factor in a business's success. Regardless of its size, a business's cash flow drives everyday operations, expansion and purchasing power. As most businesses face continued unpredictability in the local economy, managing the ups and downs of cash flow can have a major impact on reaching future goals.
Few business owners realize what untapped—and often free—resources are available to help them manage finances and stimulate positive cash flow.
"Businesses—especially the more than 1.5 million small businesses in Florida—are major contributors to our state's economy," said Dave Maraman, Florida Regional President, M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group. "We feel a strong sense of responsibility in providing strategic counsel and vital financial tools that will help them grow their businesses and ultimately grow our local economies."
To help businesses meet the challenge of effectively managing accounts payable and accounts receivable, Maraman offers five simple tips to get business owners on the right track in 2012.
1. Pay your company first. A cash reserve can go a long way in making certain that in times of low cash flow, you are able to continue day-to-day operations.
2. Create a budget and track expenses. Even if a business's profit is more than the monthly expenses, it's important to keep a budget and continually track monthly operating costs and income. Always knowing the state of your business's finances allows you to spot red flags and issues before they become unmanageable.
3. Don't let past due accounts slide. If you're having trouble with receiving payment, re-invoice three to five days after the account is overdue. The longer a business waits to get paid, the less likely they are to receive all of the payment or even get the funds.
4. Focus on your largest debtors. Invoice customers who owe the most first.
5. Consider giving a discount for paying within 20 days. Depending on the nature of your business, it might make sense to offer a slight discount for those that pay by credit or debit within 20 days of the invoice.
In addition to cash flow management, financing can help provide business capital. Understanding financial options can help manage everyday expenses and purchasing needs. There are three primary ways to meet financing needs.
1. Business loans. For businesses that meet all credit and financial criteria, a conventional business loan allows for an infusion of cash that can allow a business to expand, buy necessary equipment or meet cash needs. SBA loans can be a great option for many businesses. For information on SBA loans, visit www.sba.gov.
2. Credit card. A business credit card can be used for everyday spending and has a set repayment schedule.
3. Credit line. A credit line can provide cash in a crunch to help cover the cost of operating expenses, unexpected expenditures or the purchase of additional inventory. A line of credit is not the right option for the purchase of capital assets, which might be better suited for a business loan. A credit line is great for purchases that are too large for a credit card but are not large enough to warrant a business loan.
Staying on top of finances can help a business run more smoothly, and using the right credit vehicles can assist with other cash flow options to fit individual needs.