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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
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Phone: 215-453-7883
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
Fax: 267-354-6800
email: tom@tomskiffington.com
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Tom's Blog

Question of the Day

December 12, 2011 1:52 pm

Q: What should I weigh before considering an addition to my home?

A: Thoroughly assess your space. You may find you have the room you need, particularly if there are unused or underutilized areas in your home. Perhaps a garage, attic, side porch, or basement can be converted to fit the use you have in mind. Or maybe a small area can be carved from a larger area like a kitchen or living room to create a powder room. These improvements are certainly cheaper than a major construction job.
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Make Your Year-End Tax Savings List Now

December 12, 2011 1:52 pm

It's the season for making a list and checking it twice, but a holiday to-do list isn't the only one you should be working on before the year ends. Be your own Santa and write up a list of money moves you can make now that will be a gift to yourself come tax time. Take a look at these year-end tax tips from the Illinois CPA Society to see what works best for your financial situation.
  • Make Charitable Donations – You can deduct donations on your 2011 return if you itemize your tax return. Monetary gifts, the value of materials or food donations, and even the out-of-pocket expenses you incur while volunteering, such as gas and travel costs, can all be deducted. You can also deduct the fair value of any clothing or household items in good condition that you donate. If you are donating inherited items or furniture, an appraisal may be helpful to determine value. With any donations, make sure to get receipts for documentation.
  • Consider Energy-Saving Home Improvements – If you were planning on replacing that old furnace anyway, you could save up to $150 with a qualified energy efficient unit if you do it by the end of the year. Insulation, new windows and doors, solar heaters and other items are also covered under The Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit and the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit. Details can be found at www.IRS.gov.
  • Pay Bills Early – Paying certain bills in 2011 will allow you to write off a deduction earlier. For example, if you pay your January 2012 mortgage bill on or before December 31, you may deduct an extra month of interest in 2011.
  • Contribute to Your Retirement Plans – A contribution to your 401(k) plan is pre-tax money excluded from your income so it lowers your tax bill. It's a good idea to contribute as much as possible to reduce the taxes you pay and to stay ahead of any possible tax reforms that may limit future contributions. For 2011, you can contribute up to $16,500 to a 401(k) plan (or $22,000 if you’re 50 or older).
  • Look Into Expiring Tax Breaks – There are several tax breaks that expire at the end of 2011 and you want to be sure you've made the related expense within the calendar year. These include the classroom expense deduction which allows teachers to deduct up to $250 for books, supplies and other related expenses, and a tuition deduction where up to $4,000 in tuition can be deducted. Amounts paid in 2011 for classes starting in early 2012 can qualify for a deduction on your 2011 tax return. These breaks may be reinstated, but it's best to act now.
Working with a CPA throughout the year will keep you well-prepared to get the best return on your taxes.
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eBay, Gogo Offer Delta Passengers Free Wi-Fi for the Holidays

December 12, 2011 1:52 pm

eBay is giving passengers aboard all Gogo-equipped Delta Air Lines flights the gift of free Wi-Fi this holiday season. Starting December 12 through January 2, passengers can access 30 minutes of free Gogo during any of Delta's more than 2,500 daily Wi-Fi equipped flights courtesy of eBay. In addition to the free half-hour session, passengers will also be able to shop on eBay throughout the duration of the flight.

"As people head out to visit their relatives on Delta for the holidays, we are delighted to be able to partner with eBay to offer 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi so they can shop for last minute gifts, connect with friends and family, or send holiday greetings from 30,000 feet," said Ash ElDifrawi, Gogo's chief marketing officer. "This is always a hectic time of year and we're happy to be able to offer Delta passengers this holiday gift."

To access the free Wi-Fi, just connect to Gogo on your Delta flight using your own Wi-Fi enabled device, open your browser, enter your email address in the special eBay promotion on the home page and click the "Give Me Free Wi-Fi" button.
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8 Great Ways to Save for a Down Payment

December 12, 2011 1:52 pm

Like many consumers today, you may be thinking this is a great time to buy your first home—and you are right. Rock-bottom prices in many areas, historically low mortgage rates, and a great selection of properties in all price ranges make this an excellent time to buy.

“The problem for many,” notes consumer finance consultant Elizabeth Ray, “is the lack of a down payment. But favorable price and mortgage conditions will likely last for a while. The smart and hopeful first-time buyer will take advantage of the opportunity to save now for that needed down payment.”

For those willing to make a few sacrifices in the short-term, Ray suggests eight possible ways to help consumers watch their savings pile up more quickly:
  • Bank the extras – Anytime you get a refund, bonus, commission or birthday check, bank it in a separate savings account.
  • Live on one income – Working couples should try to live on one income and bank the other – or half of it.
  • Get a roommate – If you’re single and living on your own, think about halving your monthly costs by taking in a roommate.
  • Ditch the second car – If possible, use public transportation and bank the sale funds or payments.
  • Do without extras – Can you do without cable? Eating out every night? That Starbucks stop every morning?
  • Pay off debt – As you pay off high interest debt to better your credit rating, you will also be saving that high interest spend. Try to bank the payments you no longer need to make.
  • Ask about a piggyback mortgage – Consult with a mortgage broker. If you can’t quite get the required percentage together for your down payment, but have a high enough monthly income, you may be able to get a piggybank loan to cover what your first mortgage won’t.
  • Check out loan assistance programs – Government organizations like Veterans Affairs and FHA offer special programs designed to help people who don’t have large down payments obtain mortgage financing. Also check with state and local housing authorities to find out what assistance they may offer.
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Have a Home Office? Learn How to Maximize Your Space

December 8, 2011 5:42 pm

In today’s upwardly mobile real estate environment, the ability to move around and shift is crucial. Oftentimes, agents are burning the midnight oil at home, not at the office. For this, it’s important to have a place that is functional, organized and private (if possible).

Here are some top ideas from wikihow.com on how to find, keep and organize your home office:

Find the perfect spot. Part of keeping organized in a home office is ensuring that you have a suitable place set aside to serve solely as your home office. It's not going to be effective if you're borrowing space anywhere, such as the kitchen table, or your child's desk while they're at school. Instead of "nomading" about the house in search of the perfect space, select one spot that is out of the way of pedestrian traffic, unaffected by noise or other sources of interference, and can be a permanent home office base for you. Purchase a table or desk (depending on your needs) that can be used just for your work tasks.

Check that everything is ergonomically suitable for you. It's easy to become despondent and start making a mess when your working arrangements make you feel uncomfortable. A chair that makes your legs feel deadened or a table that just doesn't have the space needed will soon have you wandering off and trying out other parts of the house for working in to try and improve your comfort levels.

Remove the superfluous. Clutter will make it impossible for you to remain organized in a home office. Being at home, you're at greater risk of things "migrating" into your work zone that have nothing to do with your work. Deal with this by getting rid of every object that is not useful for work. Take a close look at what you're dealing with and define carefully what you need and what you don't.

After removing the superfluous, permit yourself three beautiful objects to grace your workspace and inspire you. Keep it at three or less always, no more. If you want to rotate the inspirational things, then feel free to do so.

Manage the cables. You’ve probably found out through experience that the tangled cords under your desk are great at achieving three things: they trap dust balls, they make you look disorganized and they snag your feet, occasionally pulling over something else in the process. Don’t live with that rat’s nest of cables lurking behind your workstation; even if you’ve never thought it was possible to straighten out your office cables, give it a try.

Go wireless. Now that you’ve got that mess under your desk cleared up, think about getting rid of the cord clutter on your work surface. Wireless keyboards and computer mice are terrific gadgets that will free up both your space and your movements. Just imagine not having to tug the cord of your computer mouse free ever again.

Keep your printer off your workspace desk or table. Purchase or find a suitable printer table for it instead. If this small table or cabinet has shelves for storing printer paper and cartridges, this is even better.

Ensure adequate lighting. A home office needs good lighting to help you see properly at all hours of the day. If you're stuck in a basement or somewhere that's darker than normal, consider using a daylight bulb to brighten up your working space and to help you feel that the light is more natural.

Label everything. Stop squinting at the handwritten chicken-scratch on your file tabs and invest in a label maker instead. Having a label printer around will not only keep the contents of your filing cabinet looking neat and professional, it’s also very handy for organizing discs, office supplies and storage cabinets.

Sort. Sort through papers and shred the ones you don’t need. We’ve all dealt with it: the mountain of paper that comes from repeatedly putting off sorting through junk mail and paperwork. You have it in your power to keep that paper from piling up in the first place.

Straighten up at each day's end. Before you call it a day, do a small tidy up. By taking just a few minutes to put everything back in order, you’re making a useful transition out of your workday, and ensuring that your office will be much more pleasant place to return to the next day.
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Have a Healthier Holiday Season

December 8, 2011 5:42 pm

Age Management Physicians from Cenegenics Carolinas, a preventive health and age management medical facility, today released their top tips for staying healthy over the holiday season.

Exercise
Staying active during the holiday season can prove to be a tough challenge.
Tip: Try to exercise for 10 minutes three times a day. A great 10-minute workout can include walking up and down stairs or jumping rope.

Drink Plenty of Water
The number one cause of daytime fatigue is dehydration.
Tip: Try to drink eight ounces of water a day and consume foods and beverages high in water.

Monitor Alcohol Consumption
Alcoholic drinks are loaded with calories and little or no nutritional value.
Tip: Moderation and smart beverage choices. Avoid beverages like eggnog and rum and coke. Instead, opt for a light beer or vodka mixed with sparkling water.

Get Enough Sleep
With the stress of the holidays sleeping can be a challenge.
Try these tips for a good night's rest:
• Avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine after 2 p.m.
• Set the room temperature between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Limit alcohol consumption.
• Try foods that help promote sleep.

Eat a Healthy Breakfast
Choose a breakfast that includes protein and healthy fats and don't skip breakfast as this can lead to overeating.

Avoid the Afternoon Lull
To beat the mid-afternoon crash, start the day with the proper nourishment and avoid heavy lunches. If in need of an energy boost, try taking a brisk walk.

Conquer Temptation
Eat a small meal before going out and plan for temptation. Studies show that when people plan out exactly what they'll do when temptation arises, they are two to three times more likely to achieve their dietary goals.

Dealing with Holiday Stress
As our cortisol (stress hormone) rises, it compromises the production of other important hormones such as DHEA, pregnenolone and progesterone. Try to increase these hormone supplements during stressful times.

Prevent Colds
Nothing's worse than getting a cold during the "most wonderful time of the year." Take precautions by eating plenty of immune-boosting foods, take a multi-vitamin and get plenty of sunshine to maintain optimal health.

Spice up the Holidays
Studies show that adding certain spices to food can help boost metabolism including: cayenne pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, paprika, black pepper and other hot peppers.

Source: http://www.cenegenicscarolinas.com
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Word of the Day

December 8, 2011 5:42 pm

Replacement cost. The cost at today’s prices and using today’s construction methods, of building an improvement having the same usefulness as the one being appraised.
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Question of the Day

December 8, 2011 5:42 pm

Q: What about the difference between a conventional and non-conventional loan?

A: They are the same as conforming and non-conforming loans. A conventional, or conforming, loan is one not insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or guaranteed by the Veterans Administration (VA), two federal government agencies that make homeownership possible and generally more affordable for a large segment of the population.

However, that said, many major banks and private lenders now offer non-conventional, or non-conforming, loans for lower-income borrowers and those with blemishes on their credit.

In fact, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now the leading sources of non-conventional loans, thereby making the process of buying a home a lot easier for more people—but not necessarily cheaper. The interest rates on these loans are much higher than rates on conventional mortgages.
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Create a Holiday Wreath that Reflects Your Style

December 8, 2011 5:42 pm

Winter White
Get a first-frost look with a simple paint treatment.

Step 1: Choose an artificial wreath with no attached lighting, or update a wreath that you have on hand from past holidays.

Step 2: Spray the wreath with one coat of white paint; let dry. To create the flocked look shown here, spray the wreath with one to two coats of orange-peel ceiling texture paint. Allow to dry.

Step 3: Lightly spray a pinecone decorative pick with gold spray paint. Let dry.

Step 4: Tie white ribbon into a bow, and secure with 22-gauge wire. Attach a gold bow to the white ribbon using wire. Secure the bow to the wreath’s metal frame using wire. Separate the pinecones from the pick, and attach to the bow.

Squared Away
Mix live greenery and silver ornaments for a tailored twist.

Step 1: Select a square live wreath. Choose an assortment of shiny silver ornaments and matte-finish ornaments.

Step 2: Cut an 8-inch length of 22-gauge wire for each ornament. Loop the wire pieces through the ornament hangers.

Step 3: To secure each ornament, pull the wire through the wreath and wrap it around the metal frame. When tying the ends of the wire on the back of the wreath, follow the same grid to help align the ornaments. Bend and adjust the wire to straighten your pattern after all the ornaments are attached.

Fresh-Cut Snowflake
Turn Christmas tree trimmings into a one-of-a-kind wreath.

Step 1: Gather six pieces of trimmings from your live Christmas tree. Use shears to cut the pieces to the desired lengths (ours measure approximately 13 inches).

Step 2: On a workspace, place two sprigs face down and end to end. Cut a length of 9-gauge wire that measures two inches longer than the span of the two sprigs. The wire will serve as a spine for the wreath. Using pliers, create a loop at one end of the wire.

Step 3: Lay the wire on top of the sprigs with the loop flush with one end. Use 22-gauge wire to secure the sprigs to the 9-gauge wire at various points.

Step 4: Use the 22-gauge wire to secure the remaining four sprigs to the 9-gauge wire in an X pattern.

Step 5: Add evergreen sprigs, such as boxwood and pine clippings, to the front of the wreath near the center using 22-gauge wire.

Step 6: If desired, use jute twine to add a clear glass finial ornament near the center of the wreath.

Good to Know
Place extra trimmings in vases to carry the fresh-cut scent of the season throughout your home.

This article is excerpted from Lowe’s Creative Ideas magazine. For more information, please visit www.lowes.com.
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Protecting Your Pet during the Holiday Season

December 8, 2011 5:42 pm

Many pet owners are unaware of the health hazards for pets during the holidays. The following tips ensure your four legged friend has a happy holiday.

Holiday Havoc—The holidays can be a stressful time for pets. In many households, the holidays bring frequent visitors and major changes in the daily routine. As such, it's important to provide pets with a private area of their own. This should be a room or area of the home where guests are not allowed. Pets will find comfort in being able to retire to a quiet place where they can escape the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Above all, it's important for pet owners to allow a little extra time during the holidays to pay special attention to their pets.

Poisonous Plants—Though seemingly harmless, holiday plants can be highly toxic for our four-legged friends. Poinsettia ingestion can cause mild intestinal problems for pets and irritation to the mouth and stomach. Pets that ingest certain types of mistletoe can become ill as well. Other plants like holly, amaryllis and lilies are also known to be quite toxic to pets, so make sure that when decorating the house, these items are in areas not frequented by pets or at levels pets cannot reach.

Dangerous Decorations—Items like tinsel and ribbons may be potential choking hazards for pets, and tree ornaments, usually fragile in nature, can be hazardous if broken. Water used at the base of live Christmas trees is often stagnant and may contain fertilizers or other preservatives that can upset a pet's stomach. Lastly, curious pets can run into trouble when investigating candles or potpourri, so be sure to keep these items out of a pet's line of sight!

Fattening Foods—While it may be tempting to share a holiday meal with your dog or cat, it's probably best to rethink that strategy as many holiday foods can be unhealthy for pets. Things like chocolate, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts and even onions can be toxic to pets. Xylitol-containing sweets and gums can make pets very ill, and foods with high fat content have been known to cause pancreatitis, especially in dogs.

For more tips, visit www.greenies.com and www.lorie-huston.com.
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