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10 Ways to Manage Your Finances and Avoid Post-Holiday Regrets

November 18, 2011 4:32 pm

The holidays are upon us, bringing all those personal and family images and sensations we cherish. But for many of us, there are a few not-so-joyous holiday sights (a purse overflowing with credit card receipts) and sounds (the ca-ching! of the cash registers marking our escalating debt). These negatives can easily outweigh all that we love about the holiday season, especially during this less-than-prosperous economic period. 

“Overall, the recession has brought about a renewed dedication to saving,” says Eric Tyson, author of Personal Finance for Dummies, 6th Edition. “Before the recession, our national personal savings rate was close to zero, and now it’s around 4 percent. But it is very important that you not let your holiday spending zap all of the saving progress you made during the year.” 

“Whether it’s a dedication to the gift-giving tradition, a sense of obligation, or a feeling that the holidays entitle us to have a little more fun than usual, too many of us seem to turn a blind eye to the budget-busting reality of all that spending over just a couple of months,” says Tyson. “Don’t let excessive holiday spending cause any unnecessary financial stress for you and your family.” 

What if you could have a wonderful, memorable holiday and avoid the financial hangover afterwards? Tyson provides great tips on how to keep your holiday spending in check. 

Find an alternative to gift-giving during the holidays. Many people feel they have to give gifts during the holidays, either because it’s a family tradition or because they know their friends and relatives have gotten gifts for them. There are plenty of great ways to trade in this tradition for another one that is even more meaningful, and chances are your family and friends will be happy to save gift-buying dough as well. 

“Instead of exchanging gifts, your family members might want to pool their money and spend it on a holiday outing,” says Tyson. “If you have kids, you’ll probably want to get them a little something, but set strict spending limits. Instead of piling up the toys, let each child choose an outing or event that he or she gets to spend with you one-on-one. Kids will look back on the valuable time you’ve spent together a lot more fondly than they will any toy or video game they use a couple of times and then toss aside.” 

If you must buy gifts, cut your expenses elsewhere as necessary. Perhaps you’d rather dine out or go to the movies less, or maybe you can forego that new pair of shoes you’ve been wanting for yourself in order to afford gifts for the grandparents. “It doesn’t matter where you make cuts, just that you make them,” says Tyson. “Keeping your other spending under control while you’re out there doing your shopping can be a challenge, but just keep repeating to yourself the importance of not over-spending. That way when it comes time to actually pass out those presents you’ve purchased, you can do it without grimacing as you think about the damage they did to your bank account.” 

Set a budget and keep tabs on what you are spending. While you’re doing your holiday shopping, your new best friends should be your checkbook register, credit card statements, and all of your receipts. It’s easy to get into a spending rhythm when shopping for yourself or others, and that’s why you need to physically write down every purchase you make and make sure you don’t go over your budget. “When you start to add up everything you’re spending, you may be shocked at what all those expenses from this store and that store add up to be,” says Tyson. “And don’t forget about all those ‘necessary’ holiday extras. Most people don’t budget their shopping and don’t realize that by the time you buy all the presents, plus wrapping paper, cards, decorations, etc., it’s added up to a ridiculous amount. Having a budget that you know you must stick to will help keep your impulse spending from getting out of hand and will help you hone in on the most reasonably priced holiday items.” 

Plan what you are going to buy, and don’t get any extras! Particularly during the holidays, companies pull out their most appealing packaging in hopes of snagging the eyes of shoppers. That’s why along with your budget, you’re going to want to take an exact list of what you want to buy for your gift recipients. Don’t go shopping for someone’s gift until you know exactly what you are going to buy. 

“It’s very easy to go in with no plan, see something you like, and get it simply because you have no idea what else to get for a hard-to-buy-for relative despite the gift’s significant price tag,” says Tyson. “Another temptation that the list will help you squelch is the desire to buy those little knickknacks here and there that you think will make nice small additions to the gifts you’ve purchased. Very rarely are things like this necessary, and if you’ve got your list in hand, it will be easier for you to pass them by without hesitation.”
Use the season to set a good example for your kids. Your kids learn about money from you. And if they see you spending left and right during the holiday season, the lesson they come away with isn’t going to be a good one. During the holidays, it’s very easy for the “gimme gimme gimme” materialistic attitude to get out of control. After all, kids are bombarded with constant advertisements for toys, clothes, and the latest gadgets you can be guaranteed they’ll want (or at least think they do!). 

“There’s plenty you can do to help kids appreciate the true meaning of the holidays,” says Tyson. “Have them give some of their money to a local charity, participate in a program in which they buy and wrap gifts for underprivileged kids, or volunteer at a soup kitchen. It can be an eye-opening experience for kids to see that not everyone has enough money to have an enjoyable holiday.” 

Watch out for deals that seem too good to be true. Retailers run all sorts of specials to induce consumers to buy now, and the holidays offer these companies easy prey in the form of deal-seeking, cash-strapped consumers. For example, furniture stores frequently offer that if you buy now, you don’t have to pay a thing for a year, and you might even get free delivery. This sort of “push” marketing can make it harder for you to say no. 

“This is just one example of how stores coax in shoppers,” says Tyson. “Always remember that free financing for, say, a year is not a huge cost to the dealer, but it is a cost, and if you forgo it, you should be able to negotiate a lower purchase price. Retailers find that buyers are less likely to negotiate the price if they are getting a short-term financing break. Read the fine print on any deal you are considering taking before you go to the store to make the purchase. It can be even harder to say no once you get to the store, so you’ll want to know what you are in for before you get there.” 

Leave the plastic at home. Many of us can explain away spending so much on gifts because we simply charge everything and reason that we can pay it off gradually after the holidays. This is a great way to create a never-ending cycle of consumer debt for yourself. It only creates unnecessary financial stress for you after the holidays. 

“Use your budget to figure out how you can purchase the gifts you want to purchase without putting them on your credit card,” says Tyson. “If you are so cash-strapped that you think it will be difficult to avoid charging gifts, then you may want to sit down with other friends and family and propose a limit on how much gifts can cost this year—or propose no adult gift exchanges at all. Far from being disappointed, it’s likely they’ll view this reprieve from gift-buying as a gift in its own right.” 

Invest in your kids’ financial futures. It may not seem as exciting to your kids as a new iPod, but a contribution to their financial well-being will be appreciated long after such expensive “toys” are obsolete. “Have the grandparents contribute to a college tuition fund or savings account rather than buy them more stuff they don’t need,” suggests Tyson. “Or make one of your gifts to your kids a stock fund portfolio that can start accruing now. Also, make them aware of the budgets and tools you are using to keep your spending in check. The holidays are a great time for them to truly learn that money doesn’t grow on trees.” 

Give the gift of time to your kids. Often, parents buy gifts for their kids with the best of intentions. Either you don’t want to deprive them of the toys and gadgets all of their friends have, or you want to give them the things you didn’t have as a kid. 

“Both of these tendencies are perfectly understandable, but I’ve found that parents who buy too much for their kids often have difficulty changing the habit,” says Tyson. “The holiday season offers great opportunities for you to show your kids how much you love and care for them. For example, you can make time with them each week to watch a holiday film or TV show, go on a walk to see your neighbors’ holiday lights and decorations, or emphasize that giving back message again and take them caroling at a local retirement home. All of these activities cost next to nothing, and they will be fun for the kids and for you!” 

Remember that meaningful gifts don’t necessarily have a big price tag. “Sure, it might be nice to give your mom a brand new TV, but there are other things out there that will be even more meaningful and enjoyable for her—like a photo album with candid shots of the grandkids or something they’ve made for her themselves,” says Tyson. “If you are looking to give a gift that truly means something and that will keep its value for years to come, you are better off looking for nonmaterial gifts to give than for something your gift recipients could get themselves at the local big box store.” 

“Money can easily become the focus of the holidays when it should be the last thing you are thinking about,” says Tyson. “By keeping your spending under control, you can have a great holiday and avoid the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that occurs when you start getting those credit card bills in the mail. If you prepare properly, you can achieve a happy balance of spending and saving during the holiday season. That’s a great gift in and of itself, for both you and the people you love.” 

To learn more, visit www.erictyson.com.
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I Hate My Job, but What Can I Do about It?’: Expert Reveals How to Change Your Career

November 18, 2011 4:32 pm

The late comedian George Carlin once said, “Do you hate your job? Sorry to hear that. There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar!”

As a consultant on employee engagement to major healthcare companies, Melissa Evans understands that feeling well. Her solution to it, however, is a little “uncorporate.”

“It’s a fact that most people don’t like their jobs,” said Evans, also author of Sole to Soul: How to Identify Your Soul Purpose and Monetize It. “According to a recent survey published by Time Magazine, fewer than half of American workers—45 percent—are satisfied with their jobs. This is the lowest percentage since 1987. Gallup reported that this phenomenon also hurt businesses in a significant way. Companies with large numbers of dissatisfied workers experience greater absenteeism and lower productivity. These workers create a turnover rate of 51 percent. Can you imagine working at a company, or trying to run one, that loses half its staff every year?”

That turnover isn’t just from firing or layoffs. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people who quit their jobs from June 2010 through October 2010 was actually larger than the number of people who lost their jobs. Gallup says all these disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy upwards of $370 billion annually. Evans believes that one key way to turn this around is for employees to look inward before they look outward.

Her solution is for workers to get in tune with potential careers and job choices that plug into their passions as a person. She suggests people ask themselves the following questions:
• What do you want? – In an economy that is dicey at best, it seems like it’s a luxury to only consider the jobs you really want, even if they are in a field in which you may have to start over from the bottom. However, consider the alternative: bouncing from bad job to bad job, hoping the next one will be better than the last, when the real problem may be that you just aren’t doing anything you’re passionate about.
• How do you want to feel? – There is a vast difference between getting up in the morning excited about the day and waking up in the morning with a knot in the pit of your belly, anxious about having to go back to a workplace you can’t stand anymore.
• Why should you change course? – If what you’ve been doing hasn’t worked so far, logic dictates you change what you’re doing. My best advice is to find something that drives your spirit and your intellect and pursue that, before it becomes too late for you to fulfill your dreams. 

“The first thing most people do when they don’t like their job is to look for another one,” she said. “While that’s valid, I have to question the wisdom of running from a bad job as opposed to pursuing a good one. The problem is, most dissatisfied employees identify a good job as one that simply pays a little more and is not where they currently work. A good job, a good career, is far more than that.” 

For more information, visit www.soletosoulbook.com.
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Word of the Day

November 18, 2011 4:32 pm

Qualification. Act of determining a potential buyer’s needs, abilities, and urgency to buy and matching these with available properties.
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Question of the Day

November 18, 2011 4:32 pm

Q: How does a lease option work?

A: A landlord agrees to give a renter an exclusive option to purchase the property. The option price is usually determined at the outset, but not always, and the agreement states when the purchase should take place – whether, say, six months, or a year or two down the road.

A portion of the rent is used to make the future down payment. Most lenders will accept the down payment if the rental payments exceed the market rent and a valid lease-purchase agreement is in effect.

Before you opt to do a lease option, find out as much as possible about how they work. Talk to real estate agents, read published materials, and, in the end, have an attorney review any paperwork before you sign on the dotted line.
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Holiday Home Fire Safety Tips

November 18, 2011 4:32 pm

Family gatherings, entertaining and festive decorations are among the highlights of the holiday season. According to the United States Fire Administration, during the Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s season, there is an elevated risk for home fires due to extensive cooking, decorations, home heating and open flames. 

Paul Davis Emergency Services, a provider of fire damage and water damage clean up and restoration services for residential and commercial properties offers the following tips to make the holidays safe for you and your family. 

Holiday Decorations: Decorate with non-combustible or flame-resistant materials. Never use lighted candles on a tree, evergreens or other flammable materials. Don’t place candles near children, pets or gift wrapping.

Lights: Make sure there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections. Check labels to be sure about the proper use of indoor and outdoor lights. Don’t overload electrical outlets.

Trees: Cut a few inches off the trunk of a live tree and fill the stand with water to keep it from drying out and becoming a fire hazard. An artificial tree should be labeled "Fire Resistant." Place trees away from fireplaces, radiators or portable heaters.

Fire Escape Plan: Make sure everyone understands the escape routes and where to meet once outside.

Smoke Alarms: Make sure your smoke alarms are in proper working order and change the batteries at least twice a year.

Fire Extinguishers: Make sure there is a working fire extinguisher in the kitchen, laundry room, and garage. Learn how to use the fire extinguisher.

Fireplace/Chimney: Have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional chimney sweep. Never burn greens, boughs, papers, or other decorations in the fireplace. Check to see that the flue is open before starting a fire.

Keep a list with important emergency phone numbers: Include police and fire departments, doctors and the national poison help line. 

In case of emergency property damage, contact a licensed, professional fire damage clean up and restoration company. 

For more information, visit www.pdrestoration.com.
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Big Ideas for Less Party Waste

November 18, 2011 4:32 pm

Whether you're hosting a tailgate party at the stadium or a child's party at home, you know that a paper plate here and an empty can there quickly add up to a lot of trash. Eco-friendly actress and mom Ali Larter knows it too, and is here to share innovative and eco-friendly party planning ideas, so you can increase the fun, while decreasing your environmental impact. 

Larter believes tackling this problem is as simple as taking small steps to waste less, which is why she co-hosted a tailgate at the University of Southern California (USC) earlier this year. With an estimated 80,000 fans in attendance, Larter teamed up with The Glad Products Company to help tailgaters learn how to take steps to go "One Bag," working toward the ultimate goal of sending just one bag of trash to the landfill, with the rest being diverted to recycling and compost. 

"Being green is something I strive for in my daily life, which is why I've teamed up with Glad," says Larter. "My goal is to inspire others to go one bag, no matter the occasion. Whether I'm hosting a family reunion or a birthday party for my son, it just takes a little bit of planning to cut down on waste. Before long, planning an eco-friendly gathering becomes second nature." 

With that spirit in mind, Larter suggests these tips for hosting your own One Bag event:
Send Electronic Invitations: Rather than mailing a printed invitation for your next party, use online invitations such as Paperless Post, or Facebook. 

Buy in Bulk: A large package of hot dogs for a tailgate uses less plastic than four or five packages from the super market for the same amount of food. 

Ditch the Disposables: While it's tempting to break out paper plates and plastic cutlery, most dining disposables end up in the landfill rather than the recycling stream. Instead, use real cutlery and plates or look for options that are compostable. I'm a fan of mixing and matching vintage china patterns for a shabby chic look. 

Turn T-Shirts into Tablecloths: Recycle gently used clothing or logo-wear to create party-themed tableware. For example, old college t-shirts or jerseys make the perfect tablecloths for your next tailgate. If sewing is a challenge, try cutting clothes to create napkins instead. 

Use Better Bags: Glad recently unveiled a new tall kitchen trash bag that is stronger, yet uses less plastic. This innovation saves 6.5 million pounds of plastic per year—that's the equivalent of keeping 140 million extra trash bags out of landfills annually. Recycling and compost bags are also available from this family of products. 

Save Your Skewers: Kabobs are one of the easiest party appetizers to make, especially if you're grilling out for a tailgate. Instead of using disposable wooden skewers, purchase reusable stainless steel or wire ones that are dishwasher safe and better for the environment. 

For more information, visit www.GladtoWasteLess.com.
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5 Modern Twists on the Time-Honored Tradition of Giving Thanks for Food

November 18, 2011 4:32 pm

While celebrating the end of harvest season is a tradition that can be traced back for centuries, modern-day twists on the custom have evolved since the 1621 Plymouth Colony fall feast. Just as pilgrims rejoiced in their first good harvest, Americans today have found meaningful ways to honor the bounty, and express gratitude: 

1. Give #foodthanks. Farmers long ago traded in their oxen for tractors and other technologies to raise nutritious, great-tasting food. This year, a group of farmers and ranchers is cultivating a social media campaign to initiate meaningful conversations about food with Americans on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and beyond, says Kansas farmer Darin Grimm of the AgChat Foundation. "For farmers on the go, social media is a great way to connect with consumers," he says. "We're hoping to see everyone from chefs to foodies to farmers using the #foodthanks hashtag." Check out www.foodthanks.com, then tweet what you eat, using the #foodthanks hashtag, now through Thanksgiving. 

2. Plan your meal with an app. New recipe and meal-planning applications are a bounty in their own right. Try the Thanksgiving Menu Maker from Fine Cooking, which allows you to "tap your way to a customized holiday menu," offering more than 75 of the magazine's all-time favorite Thanksgiving recipes, along with a shopping list and schedule. 

3. Preserve the flavors of fall. Early American settlers would salivate over modern-day canning equipment. Once dismissed as a bygone art, canning has attracted a growing number of enthusiasts in recent years, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which provides tips on canning, pickling, freezing and more. To really make a food statement, create your own labels at www.myownlabels.com. 

4. Host your own tasting party. The holiday table inspires us to create treasured traditions at home, including exploring new foods in the company of friends and family. Home entertaining expert Domenica Marchetti suggests a trend-worthy twist on the wine and cheese tasting party. The author of Big Night In (Chronicle Books, 2008) says, "Embrace the season's bounty and host an apple tasting party!" 

5. Share in the bounty. Thanksgiving is a great time to talk with your family about helping others in need, whether it's a family down the street or a hungry child on the other side of the world. Charitable organizations like Farmers Feeding the World and Heifer International believe that giving families a source of food, rather than short-term relief, is a more sustainable way to lift them out of poverty and hunger. 

For more information, visit www.agchat.org.
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9 Tips to Help Someone Grieving during the Holidays

November 18, 2011 4:32 pm

For many people, the holiday season is a special time of year marked by celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. For those struggling with the death of a loved one, the holidays may be a difficult time full of painful reminders that emphasize their sense of loss. 

Often, friends and family members of those affected by a loss are unsure how to act or what to say to support their grieving loved one during the holidays. 

Hospice professionals, who are experienced at helping people deal with grief and loss, offer some suggestions:
1. Be supportive of the way the person chooses to handle the holidays. Some may wish to follow traditions; others may choose to avoid customs of the past and do something new. It's okay to do things differently.
2. Offer to help the person with decorating or holiday baking. Both tasks can be overwhelming for someone who is grieving.
3. Offer to help with holiday shopping. Share catalogs or online shopping sites that may be helpful.
4. Invite the person to join you or your family during the holidays. You might invite them to join you for a religious service or at a holiday meal where they are a guest.
5. Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you during the holidays. Doing something for someone else, such as helping at a soup kitchen or working with children, may help your loved one feel better about the holidays.
6. Donate a gift or money in memory of the person's loved one. Remind the person that his or her loved one is not forgotten.
7. Never tell someone that he or she should be "over it." Instead, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.
8. Be willing to listen. Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping some cope with grief and heal.
9. Remind the person you are thinking of him or her and the loved one who died. Cards, phone calls and visits are great ways to stay in touch. 

In general, the best way to help those who are grieving during the holidays is to let them know you care and that their loved one is not forgotten. 

Many people are not aware that their community hospice is a valuable resource that can help people who are struggling with grief and loss. 

For more information, visit www.caringinfo.org.
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Word of the Day

November 18, 2011 4:32 pm

Quit-claim deed. A conveyance by which the grantor transfers whatever interest he or she has in the real estate without warranties or obligations.
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Question of the Day

November 18, 2011 4:32 pm

Q: How do you determine how much a home is worth?

A: The short answer: a home is ultimately worth what is paid for it. Everything else is really an estimate of value. Take, for example, a hot seller’s market when demand for housing is high but the inventory of available homes for sale is low. During this time, homes can sell above and beyond the asking price as buyers bid up the price. The fair market value, or worth, is established when “a meeting of the minds” between the buyer and the seller takes place.
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