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
February 17, 2012 6:26 pm
Q: How do I avoid being ripped off by a less than reputable contractor?
A: According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are several ways to spot less than reputable contractors because these hucksters tend to do the following:
- Only accept cash payments;
- Pressure you for an immediate decision;
- Ask you to pay for the entire job up-front;
- Solicit door-to-door;
- Offer exceptionally long guarantees;
- Just happen to have materials left over from a previous job;
- Ask you to get the required building permits;
- Not list a business number in the local telephone directory;
- Offer you discounts for finding other customers;
- Suggest that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows, which could make you the target of a home improvement loan scam – a sure way to lose your home.
February 17, 2012 4:26 pm
Fluctuating energy costs can make it difficult for homeowners to budget their heating bills during the cold winter months. That is why many are looking into alternative sources of energy for water heating. One source that is gaining popularity is solar thermal energy, a system that uses energy from the sun to heat a water "tank" that then distributes the warmed water throughout the home. A solar thermal energy system can save money over the long run, and there are government programs that can help reduce installation costs in the short run.
"Solar thermal utilizes the sun's energy to create heat, so the operating price remains steady over time compared to conventional heat sources," says Nigel Cotton, Solar Water Heating Global Leader of the International Copper Association (ICA) and founder of Solarthermalworld.org, a Web portal for solar thermal professionals.
Cotton went on to explain that most solar thermal hot water heating systems in the home reduce dependence on conventional energy sources over the long-run, but there is an upfront installation cost which needs to be recognized. That is why it pays to learn about the variety of governmental programs that homebuyers can take advantage of to reduce the cost of installation.
The Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) currently offers homeowners installing a solar thermal system a 30 percent tax credit on the cost of their system. Locally, one common incentive is the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which allows municipalities to finance installations through property taxes.
"Installing a solar thermal system is attractive to many people because it utilizes a renewable natural resource—the sun—to provide warmth," concludes Bärbel Epp, Solarthermalworld.org newsletter editor. "Assuming that energy prices continue to rise, solar heating systems create a lasting financial benefit for families."
February 17, 2012 4:26 pm
Many consumers are currently ditching their land and business lines in favor of cellphone only call options. In fact, as many as one in six American households have given up their landline and are using only their cellphone, according to Steven Blumberg, a senior scientist at the Center for Disease Control’s Statistics department. Before you ditch your landline, make sure you think of all the pros and cons surrounding the matter.
Cost – In most areas, the cost of a cellphone plan is lower than the cost of a landline, especially when you count the cost of a long distance calling plan. However, the “per month” cost that many carriers quote can be misleading. Be sure to investigate all the hidden fees first.
Lifestyle – Those who prefer cellphones over home phones are often on-the-go, and have very different lifestyles than people who prefer landlines. If you’re constantly on-the-go and need to be reached at a variety of hours, a cellphone is probably your best bet.
Emergencies – A cellphone will be useful during emergencies that arise when you’re away from home, such as a car accident.
Emergencies – Although a cellphone may be useful in some emergencies, your address is not visible to the emergency operator when you call from a cellphone. While they can locate you, it’s not as fast as calling from a landline. Depending on the service you use, your telephone number might not be visible to the operator, either.
Power – What will happen if your power goes out? Your cellphone will continue to operate as long as it has a battery, but what if the power outage lasts for an extended period of time?
Listing – Do you want to be listed in the phone book? If so, you will need a landline.
Landlines and cellphones each have their pros and cons. By considering the matter from all angles, you can decide which type of phone fits your lifestyle.
February 16, 2012 6:26 pm
"My husband will perform all dish-washing duties for the duration of our marriage."
Guess what? You probably can't include that in your prenup, as tempting as it is. Prenuptial agreements are versatile. Though, what you can put into your agreement may vary. Prenup laws are mostly state-dependent.
They're also mainly meant to address asset division and a couple's finances. So what can't you put in your prenup agreement?
1. "I waive all child support duties."
No. You do not. More specifically, you can't.
Child support and child custody issues typically cannot be included in prenuptial agreements. This is considered a matter of public policy. After all, the money goes to financially support a minor. Courts usually use a "best interest of the child" standard to determine the amount of support granted.
The same goes for child custody issues and visitation rights.
2. "I will not pay any alimony."
Different jurisdictions treat alimony provisions differently. Some strike them down and explicitly have statutes that bar waiving alimony in the prenup. Others allow the clause. Some states will limit any alimony agreements.
3. "We will spend all our holiday time with my parents."
Provisions that detail personal instead of financial matters may get thrown out. This includes provisions that govern who does what chores, where the couple will spend their holidays, and other issues. Courts often do not want to relegate domestic matters to a contract.
There are other provisions that may be struck down as well. For more information about what you can or can't include in your prenup in your state, consult a family law attorney.
February 16, 2012 6:26 pm
You may know about the crime rates in your city—but do you know about the online crime rates? Norton teamed up with independent research firm Sperling's BestPlaces to uncover the nation's top 10 cities that have the highest number of cybercrime risk factors.
The Top 10 Riskiest Online Cities in the U.S. are:
1. Washington, D.C.
2. Seattle, Wash.
3. San Francisco, Calif.
4. Atlanta, Ga.
5. Boston, Mass.
6. Denver, Colo.
7. Minneapolis, Minn.
8. Sacramento, Calif.
9. Raleigh, N.C.
10. Austin, Texas
Cities with the greatest risk factors do not necessarily correlate with the highest infection rates, reflecting the fact that many consumers are taking precautions to keep themselves safe.
"In our examination of the riskiest online cities, we've considered a number of factors that can potentially affect online safety," says Bert Sperling, founder of Sperling's BestPlaces and lead researcher for the analysis. "By looking at data from consumer lifestyle habits as well as cybercrime data provided by Symantec, maker of Norton products, we're able to provide a holistic view of the various factors that put a person at potential risk."
Sperling's BestPlaces determined the per-capita rankings by examining several consumer behaviors—from the prevalence of PCs and smartphones, to ecommerce, social networking and accessing potentially unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots, among others.
As the leading riskiest online city, Washington, D.C., placed exceptionally high in almost all the categories measuring potential risk, and had the second-highest reported usage of smartphones. The nation's capital also ranked high among cybercrime data factors, including attempted malware infections and attempted Web attacks.
The second city on the list, Seattle, which was the riskiest online city in 2010, scored at the top in the majority of the categories surveyed, including email usage and social networking activity. Both Seattle and San Francisco (which ranked third), reported high numbers of Wi-Fi hotspots and hours spent on the Internet.
Residents of Atlanta and Boston, which ranked fourth and fifth respectively, share high rankings among the cybercrime data. In particular, Atlanta recorded the highest per-capita number of spamming IP addresses. Both cities' inhabitants exhibit a tendency toward potentially risky online consumer behavior, such as online financial transactions.
According to the research, Denver and Minneapolis placed high among potentially risky factors within the cybercrime data. Sacramento, the only city that wasn't included on the 2010 top 10 list, ranked above average across all categories, while Raleigh and Austin reported high levels of risky online behavior.
"With the explosion of smartphones, tablets and laptops in recent years, and the rise of apps and social networking sites, our online and offline lives are blending together in ways that we've never before experienced," says Marian Merritt, Norton Internet Safety Advocate. "While there are many positive aspects as a result, this analysis highlights the potentially risky factors we face each time we go online. By taking a few simple precautions now, people can make sure they stay protected against online threats."
Of the 50 U.S. cities examined, Detroit was once again ranked the least risky online city, returning low scores in the number of Wi-Fi hotspots, potentially risky online consumer behavior and PC expenditures. Other low-ranked cities include Tulsa and El Paso, which placed in the 48th and 49th spots, respectively.
"Here at the National White Collar Crime Center, we've long worked to serve law enforcement in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of Internet crime -- a fight that has never been more important as we move into an increasingly connected world," says Greg Donewar, manager of the National White Collar Crime Center. "In fact, over the past year, we've seen a considerable increase in cybercrime attacks, and whether a person lives in the riskiest online city or the safest, consumers everywhere need to be aware of the inherent dangers of online activity."
February 16, 2012 6:26 pm
Tax season is upon us, and in hopes of saving money, many are making some fairly far reaches. The Minnesota Society of Certified Public Accountants (MNCPA) recently surveyed its CPA members to identify the most creative tax deductions proposed by their clients.
"It's a good bet that many of these deductions would have triggered a letter from the IRS, had a CPA not intervened and encouraged the tax filers to not include them on their tax returns," says MNCPA Chair Sara Portner.
Taxes have gotten more complicated in recent years because of changing tax laws on both a state and national level. According to Portner, some credits and deductions allowed on the federal return must be added back when preparing a state return.
Here is the MNCPA list of strange and unacceptable deductions for 2011:
1. Questionable dependents. One woman wanted to include the months she was pregnant in 2011, even though she relinquished rights upon the child's birth; another taxpayer wanted to claim his elected official because he "pays his salary." Yet another taxpayer wanted to claim a former spouse.
2. Disallowed charitable donations. The market value of whole blood that the taxpayer donated; a $100,000 deduction for burning down an old cabin; gambling losses; private school tuition; raffle tickets.
3. "Fido" as a business expense. Pets proved popular with taxpayers wanting to deduct everything from pet food to vet bills.
4. Inflated mileage calculations. A handyman proposed to take a $25,000 mileage deduction, even though he had only $10,000 in revenue. He justified it by saying he drove 50,000 business miles in one year.
5. Creative medical expenses. A rental house in Arizona for the taxpayer's health; an in-ground swimming pool without a doctor's order; a spouse's drug habit; breast implants and tummy tucks.
6. Investment or not? An attorney's fees for a divorce were considered an "investment" by the former spouse.
7. Unscrupulous business travel and entertainment deductions. A personal luxury car; three country club memberships; a motor home and the full cost of a wedding.
Questions about what you can and can't deduct on your taxes? Contact a CPA.
February 16, 2012 6:26 pm
Anyone who has even the smallest toe in the technology pool has heard of the cloud, which has been the latest buzz in file sharing and storing. But where did this trend come from, and how did it get so popular?
1. Devices. We now have more gadgets that we want to use to access files. Smartphones, laptops and tablets are all used outside of the home, and a synchronized storing space makes sense.
2. A change in workspace. Now that people have all these high-tech gadgets, they are using them to work outside of the office. This means they will want to access and update files on the go.
3. Speedy networks. Now that networks are faster, and Wi-Fi is available everywhere from your super-market to coffee shop, sharing files is easier and we want them to be accessible.
4. Inexpensive storage. Now that storage is cheaper, cloud-based services make sense to consumers financially.
February 16, 2012 6:26 pm
Amortize. Pay a debt in monthly or other periodic installments until the total amount, along with the interest, if any, is paid.
February 16, 2012 6:26 pm
Q: What guidelines should I use to find a contractor?
A: Use caution. Your home is your most valuable financial asset. You will want someone who completes the job, not botch it up. It is important that you find a competent and reliable contractor who will successfully complete your home improvement project.
Here’s what you can do:
- Avoid the Yellow Pages. Check with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations.
- Contact local trade organizations, such as the local Builder Association or Remodelers Council, for the names of members in your area.
- Deal only with licensed contractors. The state licensing board and local Better Business Bureau also can tell you if there are any outstanding complaints against the license holder.
- Interview each contractor, request free estimates, if possible, and ask for recent references. Make sure bids are based on similar project specifications. And do not automatically settle for the lowest bid.
- Ask for proof of worker's compensation insurance and get policy and insurance company phone numbers so you can verify the information. If the contractor is not covered, you could be liable for any work-related injury that takes place during the project. Also check to make sure the contractor has an umbrella general liability policy.
February 15, 2012 6:22 pm
With medical costs on the rise, Americans are more concerned about healthy living than ever. Yet, an invisible threat exists; it's called indoor air pollution. The associated health risks have been among the most overlooked of problems in modern society. "Your carpet probably contains about 200,000 bacteria per square inch, making it 4,000 times dirtier than your toilet seat." -Phillip Tierno, Director of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, NYU [Men's Health].
Numerous government and private health institutions have discussed the direct correlation of indoor air pollutants and bacteria with a host of serious allergies, skin irritations, and respiratory illnesses. Setting higher EPA standards for indoor air quality has been a long overdue discussion, and the spotlight is now on a highly unregulated carpet and rug cleaning industry. Up until now, organizations such as the Carpet and Rug Institute have educated the public with guidelines on how to choose the right carpets, rugs, and cleaning products, while others simply hand out seals of approval alongside membership. The real challenge lies in industry-wide education, followed by industry-wide collaboration to mitigate public health risks.
The EPA has supplied the public with information on "Residential Asthma Triggers and Indoor Air Quality," but it does not address any preventative measures or sanitary recommendations for household area rugs. According to the government, vacuuming a wall to wall carpet and 'keeping it clean' is about the extent of their solution.
Most area rug cleaners advertise the new EPA guidelines which mention hidden health hazards due to dust, dust mites, and indoor allergens. Many encourage consumers to wash their rugs and solicit for business, but will often disregard the cleaning practices required to ensure these guidelines are met. Given all the latest organic and green cleaning price gimmicks, the question becomes: how does an average mother go about choosing a reliable cleaning service? How would one know if an elderly parent with asthma isn't being affected by the same rug after it was cleaned?
One of the biggest obstacles consumers face is that the market has been saturated with wall to wall carpet cleaners perpetuating the myth that topical steam cleaning, spot cleaning or chemical dry cleaning is adequate for an area rug.
Good Morning America had recently published an article titled "The Indoor Pollution Threat You May Not Have Known Existed," which provides a few good tips. However, most literature still fails to provide a comprehensive to do list for homeowners. Many homes have area rugs likely in need of attention, and homeowners aren't always to blame.
In a world rapidly changing for the greener, the biggest hurdle for cleaners is the capital investment required to keep up with technology that protects consumers. Unfortunately, many are falling short of the mark. Some carpet cleaning outfits will outsource to professional rug cleaners, and it will often take a bit of interrogation for a consumer to find out they're not the actual company cleaning your rug.
According to RevitaRUGS, common rug cleaning machinery has no discretion for rug pile, type or material. Many cleaning machines are near obsolete, as they are not equipped to adjust for pile height, thickness and material for different rug types. Wool, silk, hand-made, and machine made rugs all require different methods of cleaning and care.
The excessive use of soap and unfiltered water eventually causes buildup of organic and inorganic matter in the rug's foundation. This buildup leads to irreversible damage and becomes an attractant for further dust and dirt, defeating the purpose of cleaning.
Needless to say, a customer should not expect a clean bill of health. With respect to hand-made heirlooms, or expensive Oriental and Persian rugs, when exposing the rug fibers to this damaging process it will degrade the material and depreciate the value.
Amidst hundreds of green cleaning claims with no unified government standard for area rug cleaning industry regulations, choosing a service wisely is an arduous task. Basically, anyone with access to soap, water, and a floor scrubber, polisher, or multi-task machine can claim to clean an area rug properly.
Consumers should be looking for businesses that deep clean, disinfect, and systematically remove dust particles, in addition to using mild soaps and pure water to effectively reduce allergens and improve indoor air quality.
Source: RevitaRUGS, http://revitarugs.com