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 6, 2012 6:22 pm
Tax basis. The price paid for a property plus certain costs and expenses, such as closing costs, legal counsel, and a commission paid to help find the property.
January 6, 2012 6:22 pm
Q: Are there specific questions I should ask a contractor?
A: According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, sometimes it’s not the responses you get that are important, but what you don’t get. So you should trust your instincts and pay attention to the information that is obviously missing. Nevertheless, here are some questions NARI suggest you ask before signing that remodeling contract:
• How long have you been in business?
• What is your approach to a project such as this?
• Who will be working on the project? Are they employees or subcontractors?
• Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job?
• Does your company carry workers’ compensation and liability insurance?
• How many projects like mine have you completed in the past year?
• May I have a list of references from those projects?
• Are you a member of a national trade association?
• Have you or your employees been certified in remodeling or had any special training or education?
It also wouldn’t hurt to inquire about how trash removal and clean up will be handled and the times workers will begin and end work – this is not only for your convenience but also for your neighbors, who have to endure the noise and fewer parking spaces that may result from your project.
January 6, 2012 6:22 pm
As 2011 turns a new leaf and a new year, I am looking back on some of the best—or most tried and true—consumer advice dispensed during the past year, all while looking forward to some of the top trends and issues expected to top consumers' agendas in 2012.
Picking up on the continuing trend of rehabbing expected in 2012, some great advice on larger-scale rehab projects came our way in 2011 courtesy of the National Park Service’s Technical Preservation Services—the nation's leading provider of information and guidance on the care of vintage/historic buildings.
In exploring the agency’s Standards for Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Building we learned:
• Using shutters, operable windows, porches, curtains, awnings, shade trees and other historically appropriate non-mechanical features reduces heating and cooling loads. Consider adding sensitively designed storm windows to existing historic windows.
• Retaining or upgrading existing mechanical systems whenever possible is the way to go. Reuse radiator systems with new boilers, upgrade ventilation within the building, and install proper thermostats or humidistats.
• You can greatly improve energy efficiency of existing buildings by installing insulation in attics and basements. Add insulation and vapor barriers to exterior walls only when it can be done without further damage to the resource.
• In major spaces, seek to retain decorative elements of the historic system whenever possible. This includes switch-plates, grilles and radiators. Be creative in adapting these features to work within the new or upgraded system.
We also learned when renovating a vintage/historic property, design climate control systems that are compatible with the architecture of the building: hidden system for formal spaces, more exposed systems possible in industrial or secondary spaces. In exposed areas, avoid standard commercial registers and use custom slot registers or other less intrusive grilles.
Size the system to work within the physical constraints of the building. Use multi-zoned smaller units in conjunction with existing vertical shafts, such as stacked closets, or consider locating equipment underground, if possible.
Then, maintain appropriate temperature and humidity levels to meet requirements without accelerating the deterioration of any historic building materials. Set up regular monitoring schedules, and have a regular maintenance program to extend equipment life and to ensure proper performance.
To view the entire guide, start by visiting Technical Preservation Services at www.nps.gov/hps/tps.
January 6, 2012 6:22 pm
Taking the necessary safety precautions and understanding your electric system is crucial—it can help you understand what to look for in your new home, guarantee the approval of home owner’s insurance and provide you with the confidence and know-how to stay safe in an emergency situation.
While all major electrical repairs should be done by a professional electrician, understanding your electrical system is an essential part of buying, owning and selling a home.
Know Your Panels
Knowing how your electric panel functions is an essential safety precaution. Your electric panel is the direct connection point between your home’s wiring and your incoming electric current. Each panel should contain a main shut off (service disconnect), a circuit breaker (overload protection) and wiring. Each part of your panel should be clearly labeled for fast use in any emergency. Having a service disconnect is one of the biggest safety precautions you can take regarding your electric panel.
When analyzing your panel, be wary of oversized fuses or circuit breakers, or multiple circuits connected to a single overload device. These can create an overload hazard—a safe electric panel should have one wire per fuse or circuit breaker.
Learn Your Lines
Service lines bringing electrical current to a home can be run overhead or buried. However, if you have overhead lines, be sure all ladders, poles, outdoor cable dishes or trees are a safe distance away to avoid accidental contact.
Wire it Right
If you have an older home, keep an eye out for knob and tube wiring, a two-wire system that is not congruent with modern, up-to-date appliances and can cause potential safety hazards.
If your circuits contain aluminum wiring, you should get it check by professional who can determine if work or replacement is necessary. Aluminum wiring is no longer typically installed on household circuits due to the common occurrence of faulty connections.
If your home is not already equipped with a Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI), consider having one installed. GFCIs are personal safety devices installed in high-hazard locations, including exteriors, kitchens and bathrooms.
You may also want to consider installing an Arc-Fault Circuit-Interupter—or AFCI—in your living or sleeping area. These circuit breakers are meant to detect faulty arcs and significantly reduce your risk for electrical fires.
January 6, 2012 6:22 pm
In an increasingly competitive global market, education is becoming more important. But many families find the cost of education to be outside their grasp. According to a study commissioned by the US Department of Education, from the 2001-02 to the 2010-11 academic year, the cost of attending a 4-year undergraduate in-state school rose by 47.3 percent.
With ever-increasing education expenses, many families are accumulating significant debt, putting students further behind. However, with planning and financial management, students can control their finances. Here are some tips for parents of soon-to-be college students.
Start the conversation. Talk with other parents, teachers and guidance counselors about the cost of education. Make contact with the student financial aid offices of the colleges on your child's list and get an accurate estimate of the cost of each institute. Most importantly, talk with your child. It is imperative your child learns the budgeting process as they will soon be managing their finances away from home.
Set the budget and stick to it. Once you have a set budget, add wiggle room for other unforeseeable expenses. Make sure you set this budget realistically. Calculating the cost of pens and pencils may seem ludicrous, but if you're on a tight budget, every expense counts.
Get connected. Tracking your financial spending is easier than ever. From smart phone apps to free financial planning software, you can get an accurate financial report at any time. Research banks to determine which ones offer services to help you can stay on top of your budget. Also, consider linking your banking account with your child's, to easily transfer funds online.
Make a plan. When taking on debt, it is important to have a plan for paying it off. Calculate the monthly payments and time it will take your child to pay off the debt. Research salary ranges for the field in which your child plans to pursue a career to understand the debt they can realistically carry. Find more information and calculators to help determine payment schedules and interest rates at www.direct.ed.gov.
Do your research. Before taking out a student loan, look to other options, such as financial aid and scholarships. While some scholarships are awarded on academic merit, others are given based upon both academic performance and community service. Foresters™, a life insurance provider committed to the well-being of families and their communities, is one organization that provides a competitive scholarship program1 open to eligible members or their dependent children, including grandchildren, worth up to $8,000.
Recipients can use the scholarship to attend accredited universities, colleges and vocational schools, as long as they are pursuing their first post-secondary degree or diploma. There are up to 350 Foresters Competitive Scholarships available, in the US and Canada including five Ken Peterson Awards for Community Service. These awards are worth up to $11,000.
January 6, 2012 6:22 pm
Fitness goals are a common trend in New Year’s resolutions. Between gym memberships, the latest diet fads and miracle-promising supplements, billions of dollars get spent each year on achieving fitness goals.
Many people don’t realize that one of the best things you can do for your body is not found at the gym, or in a pill. Believe it or not, being properly hydrated is one of the healthiest things you can do. That means being in balance—the water your body loses from perspiration, breathing and other body processes is replaced by the water you consume.
Based on clinical trials on adults, published in the journal Nutrition Reviews in 2005, scientists have identified that dehydration has an impact on physical and mental performance. Even mild dehydration—a loss of 1 to 2 percent of body weight—can impact your mental and physical performance. In addition to being thirsty, mild dehydration can cause headaches, decrease your alertness, concentration and memory, and reduce your endurance.
So making sure you stay healthfully hydrated is an important part of taking good care of your body. And water is the key.
Easy Ways to Stay Hydrated
Good hydration is at the heart of a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips for getting water into your daily routine:
1. Choose water instead of caloric, sweetened beverages, especially during mealtime.
2. For an easy and inexpensive thirst-quencher, carry bottled water throughout the day.
3. Give your water variety by adding slices of lemon, lime, cucumber or watermelon.
4. Choose flavored sparkling water as another zero- calorie option.
5. Drink a cup of water before and after workouts, and more if it's hot or your workout is long and strenuous. Sip water throughout the workout for steady rehydration.
Drink in the Facts
• 38 out of 50 states have obesity rates higher than 25 percent. According to "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2011," a report funded by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, twenty years ago no state had an obesity rate above 15 percent.
• The average person gets more than 20 percent of their total caloric intake each day from beverages. Research suggests this number should be closer to 10 percent. To achieve that goal, pay attention to the calories per serving in all your beverages.
• We drink about 450 calories a day. In 1965 we consumed only 225 calories from beverages.
• A 2010 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that soda, energy and sports drinks—including sweetened water products—are the number 4 source of calories for Americans, providing an average of 114 calories/day.
• Unlike soft drinks and sweetened juices, water has no calories. In fact, making a simple switch such as replacing one 140-calorie sugared beverage a day with water can reduce 50,000 calories from your diet each year, as reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
January 5, 2012 6:18 pm
As 2011 turns a new leaf and a new year, I am looking back on some of the best, or most tried and true consumer advice dispensed during the past year; while looking forward to some of the top trends and issues expected to top consumers' agendas in 2012.
Whether trading down into a fixer-upper, or venturing into one's first adventure in home ownership, 2012 may very well be 'the year of the rehab.' As property owners—whether commercial, residential or multi-family—seek to conserve and improve their property values, they will be contracting, hammering, decorating and upgrading like there's no tomorrow.
In a recent piece, Taylor Johnson (taylorjohnson.com) talked to several Chicagoland experts on the subject.
Johnson says Rick Croce of Smykal Renovations told him whether buying or renting, people will have little interest in homes that are not renovated. That means if you’re a seller, you need to make the investment in not only replacing things like a roof and windows, but also giving the home a facelift to make it more modern.
He said people are looking for open floor plans, well-designed kitchens and attractive baths, so it is worth considering making such renovations to your home before putting it on the market—even if you don’t plan to sell for a few years.
The same holds true for the rental market, according to Jim McClelland of MACK Companies, which manages more than 500 single-family rentals in the Chicago area. McClelland told Johnson that while rental demand is high right now for single-family homes, quality still counts.
He says people aren’t interested in old, outdated homes. It’s important that smart renovations are made before trying to rent a property in order to find a good tenant and top dollar for your rental income.
McClelland said on average, MACK invests $50,000 into each of its redeveloped properties to bring them up to new-construction standards.
And Anthony Rossi, Sr., president of RMK Management Corp., told Johnson his company is continually renovating and improving its 26 properties—and the company has scheduled several large renovation projects at various communities in the works for 2012.
January 5, 2012 6:18 pm
The holidays are over. Darkness comes early, and inclement weather may be keeping you indoors. That’s a good recipe for the wintertime blues, notes marriage and family counselor Emily Adams. But unless you are suffering from real depression—for which you may need to seek professional help—there are many effective ways for beating the symptoms of more commonplace winter doldrums.
Adams suggests seven activities to help you blast through the winter blues:
• Exercise – if you can’t get to the gym, exercise at home for at least 30 minutes a day. Do bending and stretching exercises. Use a jump rope. Get on the treadmill or stair stepper if you have one. Physical activity is the surest way to pump you up mentally and emotionally.
• Take a break – A week in the Caribbean may do wonders. But so can a weekend in the country—or even a “mental health” sick day from the office, spent at the movies or another pursuit you enjoy.
• Take care of yourself – A hot meal—even a steaming bowl of canned soup—can be a treat after a long day. Eat properly. Get enough rest. Pamper yourself with a professional massage.
• Let the sunshine in – Try not to mope. Open the blinds and enjoy the sunlight at every opportunity.
• Do some chores – Set yourself goals. Scrub down the kitchen. Do some ironing. Clean out that overstuffed closet. Making a list of chores and crossing them off can do wonders to elevate your mood.
• Do volunteer work – Check in to see how you can help at a local church, senior center or food pantry. Check out online volunteer opportunities. Doing something to help others can make you feel better about life.
• Connect with positive people – Who’s the most cockeyed optimist you know? That’s who you want to connect with. Get together for lunch, or a chat over coffee. Stay in touch and stay connected, and the good mood may wash over you.
January 5, 2012 6:18 pm
While snow can be beautiful and provide endless thrills for both children and adults, fallen snow must be cleared regularly to ensure safety both on and off the road. However, if done improperly, shoveling or snow blower use can cause serious injury to the back, shoulders, hands or feet.
In 2010, more than 148,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices, clinics and other medical settings for injuries sustained while shoveling or otherwise removing ice and snow manually, according to the U.S Consumer Products Safety Commission. In that same year, more than 21,500 were injured using snow blowers.
"Shoveling snow involves a lot of bending, heavy lifting and repetitive motion," says Roxanne Wallace, MD, orthopaedic surgeon and spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). "For older Americans, and individuals who do not regularly exercise, shoveling can cause pain and injury to the back, and shoulder and arm muscles, and increase the risk for a heart attack."
For individuals who feel they are physically healthy enough to shovel, Dr. Wallace suggests taking frequent rest breaks, and drinking plenty of water and fluids. If you feel pain, stop shoveling, and find a friend, family member or professional to resume the task.
Using a snow blower is not as physically taxing as shoveling; however, the rapid, powerful blades of a running snow blower have the potential to severely injure hands or feet.
"Hands or feet should be kept away from the undersurface of a running snow blower at all times," adds Dr. Wallace. "And do not ever use your hands to address a jammed snow blower. Even if the machine is powered off, the blades may rotate forcefully after the jam is cleared, potentially causing injury. Children should never be allowed to operate or touch a snow blower. Snow blowers should not be used when children are nearby."
The AAOS has recommendations to help you stay safe while clearing snow:
• Check with your doctor. Because this activity places high stress on the heart, speak with your physician first. If you have a medical condition or do not exercise regularly, consider hiring someone to remove the snow.
• Dress appropriately. Light, layered, water-repellent clothing provides both ventilation and insulation. It is also important to wear the appropriate hat, as well as mittens or gloves and thick, warm socks. Take a break if you feel yourself getting too hot or too cold.
• See what you are shoveling/snow blowing. Make sure that your hat or scarf does not block your vision. Expect icy patches and uneven surfaces. Avoid falls by wearing shoes or boots that have slip-resistant soles.
• Clear snow early and often. Begin when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid trying to clear packed, heavy snow. If the snow is wet, lift smaller, lighter amounts with each shovel load.
• Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other signs of a heart attack, seek emergency care, such as by calling 9-1-1.
• Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Consider buying a shovel that is specially designed to prevent too much stooping. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.
• Push the snow instead of lifting it, as much as you can. If you must lift, take small amounts of snow, and lift it with your legs: Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift by straightening your legs, without bending at the waist. Then walk to where you want to dump the snow; holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine.
• Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.
• Never stick your hands or feet in the snow blower! If snow becomes impacted, stop the engine and wait at least five seconds. Use a solid object to clear wet snow or debris from the chute. Beware of the recoil of the motor and blades after the machine has been turned off.
• Do not leave the snow blower unattended when it is running. Shut off the engine if you must walk away from the machine.
• Watch the snow blower cord. If you are operating an electric snow blower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times, so you do not trip and fall.
• Add fuel before starting the snow blower. Never add fuel when the engine is running or hot. Do not operate the machine in an enclosed area.
• Read the instruction manual. Prior to using a snow blower, read the instruction manual for specific safety hazards, unfamiliar features, and whenever attempting to repair or maintain the snow blower.
January 5, 2012 6:18 pm
Health insurance is important, as you never know what life may throw at your, and shouldn’t take your well-being—or the well-being of those you love—for granted. However, health insurance plans can vary, and pricing can be steep. The following tips, offered by Health Insurance Outlet, let you in on 6 ways to save on individual health insurance.
1) Compare plans
Based on your affordability, see what plans make sense for your health history. If you are a healthier person, maybe a higher deductible plan will be the right route for you.
2) Choose an insurance plan with a smaller network
This will instantly save you money because carriers will always charge you a premium if the network is large.
3) Increase your deductible
The deductible is the money you have to pay out of your own pocket first before the insurance carrier will start paying benefits.
4) Consider your health history and how old you are
For instance, if you do not have a history of taking prescription drugs, then pick a plan with lower drug benefits and that will lower your California health insurance premium.
5) Ask your employer if they offer health insurance
For the most part, group insurance through your employer will have lower monthly premiums. This is also because employers are required to contribute towards your health coverage and that will always save you money.
6) Consider HSAs to maximize your tax benefits
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are great ways to spend your tax dollars wisely. These health insurance plans are meant for people who have recurring or predictable health care needs.