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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Perkasie, PA 18944
Phone: 215-453-7883
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
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Tom's Blog

It's Not Too Late to Beat Winter's Wrath

December 2, 2011 5:16 pm

Winter is almost here, but there is still time to protect homes and wallets from its harsh blow. The makers of GE silicone weatherization caulk offer guidance on how to help avoid a season full of bloated energy bills. Homeowners can use the time that remains in late fall to complete a critical weatherizing project: filling gaps and cracks with silicone caulk. It's an easy, quick, and affordable DIY project that can seal in valuable energy, trim heating bills, and save money for the long term. 

According to ENERGYSTAR, properly sealing and insulating can save more than $200 a year in heating and cooling costs, or up to 10 percent on total energy bills – a significant annual savings that many American families can appreciate during challenging economic times. Following are a few tips on how to master the caulk gun, an often under-rated ally in the yearly tug of war to keep the thermostat low and the energy and cost savings high. 

1. Find the Leaks – A critical first step is to find the hidden leaks that allow cold air to sneak inside.
• Leaks usually occur around the outside of a home and in non-regulated temperature areas like attics and basements that are exposed to harsh elements throughout the year.
• Obvious areas include the frames around windows and doors. Be sure to pay close attention to where the floor frame rests on the foundation on the inside of a house and where siding meets the corner boards on the exterior.
2. Choose the Right Caulk – Go beyond the advice to simply "caulk gaps and cracks." Not all caulks are created equal; and not all caulks provide long-lasting energy savings.
• Acrylic caulk is vulnerable to the very elements it is supposed to seal against, meaning it can break down over time allowing energy to escape. A silicone caulk, on the other hand, protects for the long haul.
• Leaks frequently occur in and around homes in places prone to extreme temperature fluctuations, and heavy rain, snow, ice or wind. Impervious to these damaging conditions, silicone has excellent flexibility and is 100 percent waterproof.
3. Get to Work – Master the caulk gun to reap measurable energy savings. Work with caulk in above freezing temperatures and clear off snow or ice.
• Clean the Surface – Remove old caulk, dirt, and loose particles with a caulk-removing tool or wire brush. Make sure the surface is dry. Apply painter's tape to either side of the joint to create a straight edge.
• Prep the Tube and Seal – Cut nozzle to desired bead size. Pierce the inner seal with a stiff wire or other similar object. Insert cartridge into caulking gun. Hold the caulking gun at a 45-degree angle and seal around unsightly cracks or spaces inside and outside the home. Keep a steady, constant grip and try to get as long of a bead as possible; then repeat.
• Smooth the Caulk Seal – Use a finger or a wet caulk-smoothing tool within two to five minutes of application. Remove painter's tape immediately after smoothing caulk. Wipe hands with a dry cloth before washing with soap and water. Use mineral spirits to clean up. 

For more information, visit www.momentive.com.
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Winter Ski Tips: Think Safety First

December 2, 2011 5:16 pm

Last season brought renewed enthusiasm for ski travel thanks to a long season of natural snow after record snowfalls created a winter sports bonus. The onset of the 2011 year-end holiday season, combined with unusual pre-Thanksgiving storms in the Northeast, has inspired many winter sports fans to make plans soon to pick up their downhill momentum where they left off after last spring's final runs. Travel Insured International®, a travel insurance leader in providing coverage for skiers since 1994, urges skiers to think safety first this winter season and to learn the terms and conditions of what may or may not be covered on their ski trips when they hit the slopes. 

Think Ski Safety First to Prevent Injury, Save Money
• Wear a helmet to reduce chance of injury: The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) says 57 percent of skiers and snowboarders wore helmets in the 2009-2010 season compared to 25 percent in 2002-2003. NSAA estimates helmets reduce minor head injuries by 30 to 50 percent, but will not prevent major injuries often due to reckless ski behavior. You still need to ski sensibly when wearing a helmet!
• Check state laws mandating child and teen ski helmets. New Jersey has a new mandatory child and youth helmet law, effective Nov. 1, 2011, requiring children and teens age 17 and under to wear ski helmets. California has introduced, but not yet passed, a similar measure. Check the state where you ski to learn any child and teen ski safety regulations.
• Ski off trail or back country at your own risk. Most travel insurance plans do not include coverage if you are injured or worse during extreme skiing. Remember that many ski area Search and Rescue (SAR) organizations require off-trail skiers to reimburse costs when they must be rescued due to extreme skiing, an uninsured service that can cost in the thousands of dollars.
• Ski with a buddy. Have a meeting point and carry a mobile phone in case you are separated or lost.
• Ski goggles are highly advisable for maintaining visibility, especially in white fog conditions.
• Basic travel insurance may not cover you when you join a ski race or other winter sports speed event. Travel Insured International® offers its Sports Coverage option to cover these activities.
• When you check your ski gear to fly and the airline misdirects the bag, you may be forced to rent skis in order to ski before it belatedly arrives. Travel Insured's Sports Coverage option can reimburse this rental.
• If your own arrival at the ski area is delayed due to a common carrier, including for weather, for a minimum number of hours specified in your coverage plan you can be reimbursed for prepaid, unused ski accommodations. With the Sports Coverage option you can also be reimbursed for prepaid, unused ski passes when they are non-refundable. 

For more information, visit http://www.travelinsured.com
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Tis the Season for Saving: Holiday Spending Habits, Part II

December 2, 2011 5:16 pm

Read these holiday saving tips, offered by Leslie Greenman, a financial advisor and author of the new book Dating Our Money: A Women’s Guide to Confidence with Money & Men.

Remember, it’s the thought that counts. You might find the perfect gift for someone but then reject it because you don’t think the price is significant enough to be an adequate gift. 

“The reality is that a gift with a lot of thought behind it or shared meaning for you and the person you’re buying for can have a lot more significance than a more expensive gift,” says Greenman. “For example, a special photo of you and a friend in a frame with a special note about how much you enjoyed the time you spent together is a great gift. Or have your kids write down the 10 things they love about their grandparents and include the list in a photo album of the kids. These are all gifts that involve more thought and meaning than just going to the store and buying a gift. And the people receiving them will truly appreciate it.” 

Make a list, check it twice, and bring cash! How many times have you walked into a store and immediately found the perfect gift for a friend? Sure, you hadn’t planned on spending that much, but she would love it, so why not? You can just put it on your credit card, right? “Wrong!” says Greenman. “If you use your credit card, you’ll probably end up buying that gift for your friend two or three times over in interest payments. Do not stray from your list. If you do stray, the cost of the non-list item needs to be the same as the one you had already budgeted. Bring only cash with you when you’re shopping so you can stay within your budget.” 

Save merrily by trading in your rewards points for gifts or gift cards. You should always, always use your credit cards wisely. Never make purchases on your credit card unless you can pay them off at the end of the month. And during the holidays avoid whipping them out to pay for gifts. But one positive role credit cards can have during the holidays is rewards points. 

“A few years ago, I bought my sister a chair she wanted from Pottery Barn using rewards points,” says Greenman. “I redeemed some of my points for a Pottery Barn gift card and then used it to buy her the chair. In fact, I save up all my rewards points throughout the year and use them in December for gifts. Another example: teacher gifts. I always get my kids’ teachers Barnes & Noble gift cards using redeemed points.” 

Point, click, and save. The benefits of online shopping are obvious. You don’t have to battle holiday traffic, it is practically hassle-free, and it’s easier to compare prices. “The prices are also almost always better online,” says Greenman. “You have a greater selection, and usually free shipping is offered around the holidays. And when you use specific search terms, you can avoid being distracted by all of the other items you might want to look at or be tempted to buy if you were shopping in the store.” 

Don’t shop for yourself. According to Lab42, last year the average holiday shopper spent $107.50 on themselves. When you’re making it okay for yourself to do a lot of spending, it can be difficult not to stray off your list and buy a couple of things for yourself. 

“We have all done it,” says Greenman. “You see something you like and think, Wow, that is so cute. I will buy one for so and so and one for me. You can resist this urge by implementing some of the tips we’ve already covered, but also by keeping in mind that you’ll be receiving gifts at Christmas. They’ll be all the more special if you haven’t been buying yourself new things all along. Also, keep in mind that you’ll be finding the best deals after Christmas. So wait until you can get more bang for your buck.” 

Don’t shop with a holiday budget saboteur. If you prefer doing your shopping with someone else in tow, be sure to choose someone who won’t encourage you to go off budget. 

“I can whiz in and out of a mall in 30 minutes if I’m with my son who hates shopping,” says Greenman. “Or bring a girlfriend and be there half a day. Carefully consider who you’re shopping with. Will the person encourage unexpected buying or splurging? If so, you might want to politely decline their invitation. You might also consider who’s going to keep you on track. You might bring along one of your kids because you know you want to show them how to be fiscally responsible and use the opportunity to show them how to stick to a budget.” 

Have a Secret Santa-style gift exchange. Depending on the size of your family, buying a gift for each family member can be daunting, especially when you see some of them only once a year! 

“There are exceptions, but I think by and large once you reach a certain age—specifically the age where you feel obligated to buy gifts for everyone—the reality of gift giving and receiving sets in,” says Greenman. “My point is that most of the adults in your family will probably be grateful not to have to buy a gift for everyone. Instead, suggest that your family do a gift exchange. At Thanksgiving, have everyone pick a name out of a hat. Then, you buy only for that person. It is a great way to help everyone cut down on unneeded spending. And if you’re just shopping for one, it gives you a lot more time to think about what would make the best gift.” 

Don’t be afraid to regift. Take an inventory of regifting possibilities. Are there any gift cards you’ve never used? Any clothes hanging in your closet with the tags still on them? Any gifts you’ve received in years past that you’ve never taken out of the box? If so you might want to consider regifting them. 

“Many people avoid regifting because they think it violates some rule of etiquette,” says Greenman. “But when done properly, it can help you find a home for items that you’re never going to use. Sure, there is a line that has to be drawn. If your grandmother got you a sweater that you hate, but she expects to see you wearing, then that’s probably not an item that you should regift. But let’s say a former colleague got you a scarf as part of a Secret Santa exchange at work last year. It’s a perfectly nice scarf, but it’s a color that just doesn’t look good on you. That’s a great item to regift. You’ll get it out of your house, and someone else will love having it.” 

Make like Santa’s elves and DIY. Getting crafty during the holidays is fun and can save you a lot of money on gifts. There are any number of options depending on your level of craftiness. “Costco has cute jars filled with cookie dough ingredients,” says Greenman. “We could all do that at home! Bake cookies and place them in a holiday tin for your kids’ teachers. Frame your kids’ artwork for their grandparents. The possibilities are truly endless and truly cost-effective!” 

If you’re super savvy, plan (way) ahead. As we’ve touched on above, there are always great deals after Christmas. That means if you can get over your holiday hangover fast enough, you can get a jump-start on buying gifts for next year while also saving a bundle. “My bargain shopper friend buys many of her gifts for the next year’s Christmas during the current year’s after-holiday sales,” says Greenman. “She is always finished shopping by October. If immediately after Christmas is too soon for you to think about the next year, take advantage of other sales throughout the year. For example, there are almost always great sales at Easter, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day.” 

“We naturally want to give during the holidays,” says Greenman. “But what’s important to remember is that you can give a lot without spending a lot. Don’t put a price tag on your holidays. Stick to your budget and then be generous with your time and spirit. Once the holidays are over, you’ll be happy you didn’t blow your savings, and you and your family and friends will be fulfilled by the time you all spent together.” 

Greenman is currently a financial advisor, author, and public speaker. Through her book, Dating Our Money, Leslie’s goal is to make financial planning fun and relatable for all women.
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Handy Holiday Reminders

December 2, 2011 5:16 pm

Santa makes a list and checks it twice so he doesn't forget anything. Do you? 

There are a few things that a lot of people forget during the holidays, according to a survey by RadioShack. So you might want to double check your own to-do list, just to be sure that everyone's holiday can be jolly. 

Thank you notes - 44 percent of those surveyed forget to write a note of thanks for a gift. Stock up on thank you cards early -- then put a "Thank You Day" on the family calendar between Christmas and New Year's so that everyone can take care of this important task before too much time goes by. 

Batteries - 36 percent forget batteries for the gifts they buy. There's nothing more frustrating than getting excited about a new present, then not being able to use it right away because there are no batteries. When you buy an electronic gift, make sure you put the right size batteries in the cart before you check out. Stock up on some of the more common sizes in case someone else forgets the batteries for your gift, too. 

Accessories for gifts - 31 percent tend to forget gift accessories, such as carrying cases, battery chargers, headphones or cleaning kits. If you're not sure what kind of accessories your gift should have, you can always include a gift card so that the recipient can buy just what they need later on. 

Hostess gifts - The holidays are filled with parties and special occasions, yet 29 percent don't remember to bring a host or hostess gift with them. Keep a little stash of ready-to-go gifts such as gourmet cocoas or coffees, boxed chocolates or scented candles so you have something handy for even the most last-minute events. 

Receipts and return options - Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a gift just doesn't work out, so you need to make it easy for the recipient to return it. If you're one of the 70 percent who said they plan to do the majority of their holiday shopping in stores this year, be sure to ask for a gift receipt along with your regular receipt. If you're one of the 26 percent who plans to do 50 percent or more of shopping online, find out what the site's return policies are. Print up any documentation for the gift and make it available to the recipient should they need it. 

Taking care of these little things now will help make the holidays go more smoothly, and let you enjoy them even more.
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Word of the Day

December 2, 2011 5:16 pm

Redlining. Practice of refusing to make loans in certain neighborhoods. Also applies to insurance companies that refuse to offer policies in certain neighborhoods.
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Question of the Day

December 2, 2011 5:16 pm

Q: Can I make an all-cash purchase instead of getting a mortgage?

A: That certainly is an option, although not one most people can afford. The national median existing-home price was $217,000 in 2007 and much more than that in many areas of the country (Honolulu, $643,500; San Diego, $588,700; New York $469,700). Unless you’re independently wealthy or have hit the jackpot, it may be difficult to make a “no-mortgage” investment. And an investment is exactly how you should view it because you get to save on mortgage interest that is usually paid over the life of the home loan – interest that could amount to several thousand dollars, conceivably hundreds of thousands of dollars.

With an all-cash deal, you also save by avoiding loan origination fees, an appraisal, some closing costs and other charges imposed by the lender. You enhance your negotiating position with the seller and get to bypass the rather lengthy loan qualification process, which helps to close the deal quickly. But if you want to use the home as your primary residence, forget about taking advantage of the tax breaks available to homeowners with conventional loans. By paying cash, you basically forfeit those tax breaks.

To determine whether a no-mortgage purchase is right for you, compare it to other investments, weighing the risk, return, and liquidity.
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Toy-Buying Tips to Keep Children's Eyes Safe This Holiday Season

December 1, 2011 7:14 pm

As the holiday season approaches, parents across the United States are making their lists for Santa in hopes of making a happy occasion for their youngsters. And while the little ones may know what toys are the most popular, they are ill-equipped to determine which ones can potentially be dangerous. 

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 250,000 toy-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2010; nearly three quarters of those injured were children under age 15. A serious eye injury from a toy can ruin a family's holiday and, more seriously leave a child with permanent vision loss. During this holiday season, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is reminding parents about the dangers that toys may pose to children's eyes and offers its top five tips on how to choose safe toys for gift giving.

1. Avoid purchasing toys with sharp, protruding or projectile parts. 

2. Make sure children have appropriate supervision when playing with potentially hazardous toys or games that could cause injury.

3. If you plan to give sports equipment, provide appropriate protective eyewear with polycarbonate lenses. Check with your local Eye M.D. to learn about protective gear recommended for your child's sport.

4. Check labels for age recommendations and be sure to select gifts that are appropriate for a child's age and maturity. 

5. Keep toys that are made for older children away from younger children.

"With so many toys being recalled or having the potential to cause injuries, many of my patients' parents are wondering what toys are safe," said David Wheeler, MD, pediatric ophthalmologist and clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "A good rule of thumb that I often share with parents is to choose a toy that is appropriate for their child's age, abilities, and their willingness to supervise their child's use of the toy. Being aware and thoughtful about what you are putting in your children's hands is the best preventative medicine." 

For more information, visit www.geteyesmart.org.

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Word of the Day

December 1, 2011 7:14 pm

REALTOR®. A real estate broker or agent who is a member of the National Association of REALTORS®, a professional real estate group that subscribes to a Code of Ethics. Not every broker or agent is a REALTOR®, a word that is a registered trademark and always capitalized.
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Question of the Day

December 1, 2011 7:14 pm

Q: What does homeowners’ insurance cover?

A: It protects against disasters – whether natural, manmade or mechanical. A standard policy insures the home, as well as your possessions. Because this insurance is packaged, it covers liability for any harm, loss, and property damage that you or your family members cause others. And it includes additional living expenses in case you are temporarily displaced because of damage from a fire or other insured disaster.

While you are not legally required to have homeowners’ insurance, mortgage lenders stipulate that you do. It protects their investment in the home in case of a natural disaster or catastrophic event.

If your mortgage is paid up – or you never had one – it is still a good idea to have homeowners’ insurance to protect your home and your belongings.
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Changes in Harp Requirements; How They Will Affect Individual Homeowners

December 1, 2011 5:14 pm

Money resource Bills.com recently released a consumer-focused evaluation and primer on the recently updated Home Affordability Refinance Program guidelines. Dubbed HARP 2.0, the program aims to make refinancing easier and more widely available to the nation's underwater homeowners. 

"This program could serve as a lifeline for many of the 11 million homeowners in the US estimated to owe more than the value of their property," says Ethan Ewing, president of Bills.com. "Of course, there are certain qualifications that borrowers must understand as they begin the process." 

The Bills.com HARP 2.0 Report provides a detailed look at the changes to the program guidelines and how each will affect individual borrowers. Highlights include: 

• Bills.com predicts that most lenders will not close on refinancings until March 2012 when lenders' automated underwriting systems are updated. Any early closings will be manually underwritten and are not protected against buybacks. This means many borrowers will not see immediate relief from HARP 2.0.
• The provisions most likely to help this program be successful:
o Removing the maximum loan-to-value (LTV) ration for HARP refinances
o Limit on lenders' liability if the borrower later defaults
o Elimination of credit & income guidelines for some borrowers
o Allowance of one late mortgage payment in the last 12 months
o Relaxed standards for bankruptcy or foreclosure
• One of the unheralded changes in HARP 2.0 is the new, less stringent requirement for condo refinancing. By removing the requirement that 80% of condo owners in a complex be current on their HOA dues, HARP 2.0 allows owners to refinance regardless of their neighbors' financial situation.
• In some states, refinancing can remove the consumer protections, called anti-deficiency laws, that insulate an underwater homeowner involved in a foreclosure. Bills.com recommends homeowners learn the anti-deficiency laws in their states, and whether a mortgage refinance changes their recourse loan into a non-recourse loan. 

In addition, the report examines the context and motivation behind these changes, provides an at-a-glance review of the overall changes, and breakdowns HARP 2.0 eligibility guidelines.
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