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
December 20, 2011 6:10 pm
According to REALTOR.org, 77 percent of home buyers had a home inspection prior to purchasing their home. That means the majority of home buyers are making smart decisions before buying. But let’s say you have just received the results of your home inspection—now what? With all the excitement of the house purchase and the new move, many homeowners make the mistake of putting the results of their home inspection aside, thinking they will make necessary repairs later. However, they should be doing the opposite, as home inspection results are a great starting point for making necessary repairs.
Don’t take any chances with electrical systems. According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), problems with electrical systems are the second most common type of problem reported nationwide. Your home inspection report should include a thorough check of your home’s wiring, circuit breaker, water heater, appliance hook-ups and lighting fixtures. Be particularly cautious if you have an older home that may have been designed under an outdated electrical code that is no longer up to par. Even if no major electrical problems show up on your report, installing safety devices such as a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) or arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) as a precaution is always a smart move.
Issues with home safety reported in your inspection should never be overlooked, and many things—radon, lead paint and asbestos—should be removed before your family moves in.
If your home inspector found problems with the frame or groundwork of your house, these problems should be addressed immediately. Problems like a leaky roof or basement may seem like something that can be dealt with later, but once mold or mildew sets in, it can be problematic to remove, and the future potential for water damage could set you back thousands of dollars. It’s always a smart idea to re-roof and repair and seal any cracks in your infrastructure before you begin to move your things into your new home. Areas of entrance—windows, doors and garages—are places that require special attention, as they are the most common areas that let in damaging moisture.
Don’t forget that your home inspection report is a great point of negotiation. You may be able to ask for a lower price or request that some of the major repairs—such as a faulty wiring system or leaky roof—be made on the seller’s dime before you move in.
December 20, 2011 6:10 pm
The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and thus far the numbers are impressive. According to a recent comScore report, in the first 39 days of the season, U.S. consumers spent close to $25 billion on online purchases, which represents a 15% increase over last year.
For consumers who did not take advantage of deals on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, they still have time to find the right gift at a good price. Some last minute shopping and gift ideas from the experts at DealTaker.com include:
• Buy online, but do it fast. Many of the large merchants offer standard shipping for Christmas Eve delivery if customers order on or before December 20. Additionally, some stores continue to offer rush delivery for orders placed today, December 21, and even tomorrow, December 22. The one downside is that free shipping is no longer available.
• Purchase an electronic gift card. Electronic gift cards are purchased exclusively online and are delivered electronically to the recipient via email or to a smartphone. Most major retailers offer this option, and the "card" can be delivered to an inbox or a phone within hours, rather than days. This option is great for those last minute Christmas Eve purchases.
• Send flowers. Some merchants will provide holiday delivery for orders on or before December 23. A beautiful arrangement of flowers can provide recipients with a holiday decoration that they are not forced to stow away at the end of the season.
• Give seats to a favorite event. Almost everyone has a sporting event, concert, or theater production that they wish they could attend, and most last-minute shoppers can easily find these tickets online. Event tickets can be mailed or paperless and make a great gift that will last past the holiday season.
• Opt for a magazine subscription. Most people would be happy to receive a subscription to their favorite magazine about a hobby or interest. Shoppers can visit sites such as Magazines.com to find the best magazine based on recipient, personality or price. Shoppers can also select to have a gift notification emailed directly to the recipient.
December 20, 2011 6:10 pm
In many areas of the country, the snow is falling, the temperature is dropping, and it's time to pull out those skis, sleds and skates!
While winter sports provide a wonderful opportunity to exercise and enjoy the outdoors, these activities also have the potential to cause severe injury if proper safety precautions are not practiced. Common injuries from skiing, skating and sledding include sprains and muscle strains, dislocations and fractures.
More than 440,000 people were treated in hospitals, doctors' offices and emergency rooms for winter sports-related injuries in 2010, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. This includes more than:
• 58,500 ice skating injuries;
• 91,000 injuries from sledding and tobogganing;
• 144,000 snow skiing injuries; and
• 148,000 snowboard injuries.
"When participating in winter sports, it's important for participants to know the weather and terrain, to stay alert for changes, and to take a break when feeling pain or fatigue," said orthopaedic surgeon A. Herbert Alexander, MD. "Before skiing, skating or sledding, make sure you're dressed appropriately, in good physical shape, know and abide by the rules of the sport in which you're participating, and seek medical attention immediately if necessary.
"And don't forget safety equipment, in particular helmets for skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and even ice skating," said Dr. Alexander.
As part of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons'(AAOS) on-going Prevent Injuries America!® campaign, the AAOS urges children and adults to consider these additional winter sports injury prevention tips before braving the snow:
• Check the weather for snow and ice conditions prior to heading outdoors. Pay attention to warnings about upcoming storms and severe drops in temperature to ensure safety while outdoors. Skiers and snowboarders should make adjustments for icy conditions, deep snow powder, wet snow, and adverse weather conditions.
• Dress for the occasion. Wear several layers of light, loose and water- and wind-resistant clothing for warmth and protection. Layering allows you to accommodate your body's constantly changing temperature.
• Wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, helmets, gloves and padding. Also, check that all equipment, such as ski and snowboard bindings, is in good working order.
• Skiers and snowboarders should have their boots and bindings adjusted, maintained and tested by a ski shop that follows American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard job practices.
• Never participate alone in a winter sport. If possible, skiers and snowboarders should ski with a partner and stay within sight of each other. If one partner loses the other, stop and wait. Also, make sure someone who is not participating is aware of your plans and probable whereabouts before heading outdoors. Consider carrying a cell phone in case of an emergency.
• Skiers and snowboarders should observe all marked hazard and trail signs, and should never venture into closed areas. You also should respect designated slow skiing and family areas and never ski in the trees alone. Backcountry skiers and boarders should avoid avalanche zones, carry proper safety equipment and ski only with a licensed guide or partner who knows the terrain well.
• Avoid sledding near or on public streets. Sledding should be done only in designated and approved areas where there are no obstacles on the sledding path. Speeding down hills in parks that are not designed for sledding puts you at risk to be hit by cars and trucks, or to slam into parked vehicles, curbs, and fences.
• Sit in a forward-facing position when sledding and steer using your feet or the rope steering handles for better control of the sled.
• Wear a helmet. Children especially should wear a helmet for skiing, snowboarding, sledding and even skating.
• Warm up thoroughly before playing. Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are vulnerable to injury. It's important that skiers and snowboarders warm up by taking it easy on the first few runs.
• Drink plenty of water before, during, and after outdoor activities. Don't drink alcohol as it can increase your chances of hypothermia. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, especially to avoid altitude sickness when participating in sports at a high elevation.
• Keep in shape and condition muscles before partaking in winter activities. If over the age of 50, it may be wise to have a medical check-up prior to participating in a winter sport.
• Know and abide by all rules of the sport in which you are participating.
• Learn how to fall correctly to avoid injury. Take a lesson (or several) from a qualified instructor, especially in sports like skiing and snowboarding, to learn how to fall correctly and safely which can reduce the risk of injury. Falling techniques aim to protect your vulnerable body parts.
o If skiing, learn how to properly hold the poles with the strap to avoid "skiers thumb" – tearing an important ligament by falling onto an outstretched thumb.
o Also, don't fight a fall! Instead, try to break the fall with your arms in a flexible position, landing first on your hands and wrists, letting your elbows bend into the fall, and then rolling onto the back part of your shoulder. A fall onto stiff arms can cause a severe wrist fracture. Also, try to avoid landing with your thumb against the handle of your pole.
o Injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee occur frequently in skiing, often when a skier makes a sharp sudden movement or a hard, off-balance landing. Avoiding high-risk ski behavior, maintaining balance and control, and recognizing and responding correctly to dangerous situations, can help alleviate the risk for ACL injury.
• Seek shelter and medical attention immediately if you, or anyone with you, is experiencing hypothermia or frostbite. Early frostbite symptoms include: numbness and tingling in you digits, lack of feeling and poor motion.
• Avoid participating in sports when you are in pain or exhausted. Many skiers are injured on the final, "one last run"—if tired, call it a day.
• Follow-up with an orthopaedic surgeon if injured during any winter excursion, especially if pain or discomfort persists.
December 20, 2011 6:10 pm
The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), the professional association that leads, connects and defines the active-aging industry, searches health-and-wellness research studies every year to find the most relevant to adults ages 50-plus. This year ICAA has sorted through these studies to compile a list of tips that governments, communities, businesses, families and individuals can use to encourage older adults to achieve a healthy lifestyle in 2012 (citations available on request):
1. Expectations: If you've followed a healthy lifestyle this year, keep going. If you need to make lifestyle changes, start by anticipating success—and don't let age be a barrier. Research has shown that thinking negatively about getting older can shorten your life by as much as 7.5 years.
2. Enthusiasm: Few people are thrilled with every aspect of their lives, but many have at least one area—family, friends, work, hobbies—that they feel good about. Identify an activity or connection that sparks your enthusiasm and make it your lifeline, then do your best to extend that enthusiasm to other areas.
3. Energy: Having the energy and motivation you need to age well are hallmarks of healthy living. If you're tired all the time, don't let apathy and lethargy drag you down. Instead, get a checkup to try to determine the cause-and the solution.
4. Eating: Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight are keys to physical and mental health. If you need to lose weight or make changes in your diet, keep your expectations high. You can do it!
5. Exercise: Staying physically active fuels the body and mind. If you're already exercising regularly, keep it up. If you're getting started, know your fitness level, then set goals and progress at your own pace. The key is to be consistent.
6. Engagement: Get involved in your community. Research has shown that people who volunteer have higher levels of well-being and life satisfaction than people who don't. Volunteering and other kinds of civic and social engagement can contribute to better health.
7. Emotions: Everyone feels down at times, but full-blown depression is a major cause of disability. If you're feeling out of sorts for two weeks or more, talk with your doctor. In many instances, simply exercising and eating right can change your mood.
8. Education: Lifelong learning is important to living an independent and fulfilling life as you advance in age. Start now to learn new subjects or physical activities-it's good for the brain.
9. Effort: Changing expectations and embarking on new behaviors take energy and effort, but the results are well worth it.
10. Enjoyment: A healthy life generally is a joyous one. Savor the process of being or becoming active, engaged and truly alive in 2012.
Source: the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA)
December 20, 2011 6:10 pm
Seller’s market. One with few sellers and many buyers.
December 20, 2011 6:10 pm
Q: Is it true some lenders grant loans based on very little documentation?
A: Not too long ago, they offered in abundance what are called “stated income loans," more commonly referred to as “no doc” or “low-doc" loans, mortgages that require no documentation or little documentation to verify the borrower’s income and assets. In return, the borrower, who must have very good credit, make a big down payment—generally 25 percent or more—and pay a higher interest rate.
Given current market conditions and the sub-prime debacle, these loans have become more difficult to find, cost more, and are mainly funded by hard money lenders who do not conform to bank standards.
The loans are common among self-employed borrowers who have difficulty substantiating all of their income and service industry employees, such as waiters and hair stylists, whose pay is hard to pinpoint exactly. Borrowers also may use no-doc loans when they derive most of their income from commissions or when they have very complicated income structures.
In reality, calling the loans “no-doc” and “low-doc” are misnomers. Some “low-doc” loans require plenty of documentation, such as tax returns and profit-and-loss statements. Even “no-doc” loans require a credit report and a property appraisal.
December 19, 2011 6:08 pm
In this tough economy, more and more individuals are looking at the potential long-term investment of rental property to provide a supplemental revenue stream and/or tax shelter. Like anything that appears too good to be true, beware of rental rehabs.
Mark Fitzpatrick of Lenox Home Loans (lenoxhomeloans.com) recently blogged that if you’re planning on rehabbing to rent, or purchasing investment property and are planning to take advantage of traditional bank financing, it’s important that you have your ducks in a row so the closing of the deal goes as smoothly as possible.
Fitzpatrick says taking the time to plan ahead for your traditional bank loan before you get into a deal will help hugely when you want to exit the deal. He says the following are the three biggest “gotchas” he sees when financing investment property for real estate investors:
1) Inadequate reserves. Reserve funds, i.e. cash in the bank, are not typically required if you’re refinancing a property you live in, but it’s a different story with investment properties. Plan on the lender asking you to document reserve funds of up to 6 months worth of principal, interest, taxes, and insurance for each financed investment property you own, according to Fitzpatrick.
2) Cashing out after your rehab. It used to be that you could buy a beat-up property for cheap, rehab it, and immediately transact a cash-out loan to get your investment and profit out of the deal. Not so today. Fitzpatrick says Fannie Mae guidelines require you to own the property for at least six months before you can do a cash-out loan. So make sure to account for this in your numbers, or consider financing the purchase and repairs with hard money.
3) Inadequate equity. Fitzpatrick says Fannie Mae limits the max loan-to-value for investment properties to 85%, but when you take into account pricing and bank overlay guidelines, the effective max loan-to-value for an investment property is actually around 70% to 75% right now (sometimes 80%), depending on the scenario.
If you want to learn more, Fitzpatrick offers a number of other points as well as regular articles on financing issues through the lenoxhomeloans.com site.
December 19, 2011 6:08 pm
In early 2011, the Census Bureau released a statement noting that the national average for vacant homes in the U.S. rested at over 11 percent, placing more pressure on the housing market. Selling a vacant home is more difficult than selling a furnished one, in any market. A vacant home—regardless of how nice the property—can seem eerily empty and lacking in character and warmth. However, if you are trying to sell a vacant home—whether it’s a second home or a space you were unable to sell before moving to a new location—there are a few key tips that can make the process easier and help provide a quicker selling time, and a better selling price.
Attention to Detail. Once furniture is removed from a space, even the slightest imperfections become apparent. An older carpet that was once disguised by modern furniture is now blaringly out-of-date. Nail holes in the entryway or a dining room in need of a fresh coat of paint are now obvious. Spend extra time fixing up any noticeable damages, repainting, and caulking, getting new carpets, pressure washing and fixing up anything in need of repair.
Freshen up. It’s amazing how quickly an empty house can begin smelling stale and musty. Before a showing, throw open windows and doors to allow for fresh circulation, and consider some mildly scented candles or air fresheners. Remember; nothing too overpowering.
Amp your curb appeal. Since the house may be lacking inside in terms of character, make sure the exterior packs a punch. Not only should you clear clutter, children’s toys, and debris from your yard but you should also keep grass neat and repair those broken fence posts. For even better results, consider planting new flowerbeds, upgrading that tired front walk or even hiring a landscaper.
Consider staging. Statistics show a well-staged home spends 50% less time on the market. Even if you have moved all your furniture out, you may want to consider hiring a staging company that offers furniture rental. These professionals can make an empty space into a scene of warmth and comfort, removing the burden of decoration from your shoulders and easing anxiety.
Remember, potential buyers are not just looking for a roof over their head. They are looking for a place to start a new chapter in their life. You want to show them everything your property has to offer. Since vacant homes often sell for considerably less—typically 15-20 percent lower than the asking price!—taking extra precautions is worth it.
December 19, 2011 6:08 pm
All of the different types of insurance coverage can make shopping for car insurance confusing and stressful. Below is a basic breakdown of the different varieties of auto insurance, and how you can save a few bucks.
If you're in an accident, this protects you from liability you might face from the other parties in the accident. It's divided into two areas; bodily injury and property damage.
Bodily injury covers medical bills, loss of income and legal bills. If you don't have enough liability coverage, you might have to dip into your savings to pay off big bills from lawsuits.
Property damage covers damage to physical property like homes and storefronts, and vehicle repair or replacement costs for any other parties in the accident.
Damage to your car is covered under auto insurance. Like liability it's split into two sections; collision and comprehensive coverage.
Collision covers repairs or replacement of your car because of a crash, up to your car's actual cash value. The cash value is your vehicle’s value after taking into account depreciation and wear and tear.
Comprehensive coverage is for damages to your car for things other than accidents, such as storms, vandalisms, or collision with an animal.
Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist coverage covers you in the event you're in accident, and the other party has no or very little insurance.
Medical Payments coverage covers medical expenses that may result from a covered accident.
Personal Injury Protection helps cover medical expenses—as well as any loss of income or child-care expenses—you might face while healing from an accident.
To determine your premium, determine the coverage limit; the higher it is, the more you pay in premium.
If you lower your coverage limit, you'll play less premium, but you'll pay more out of pocket if you're ever in an accident that exceeds the limit.
Another way to lower your premiums is upping your deductible, which is the amount you pay if you make a claim for an accident. If you have a higher deductible, you have a lower premium.
For example, if your car requires $3,000 in repairs after an accident and your deductible is $500, you will have to pay $500 out of pocket, and the insurer will pay the rest, $2,500.
You can lower your premium in other ways including safe driving, and avoiding traffic tickets and accidents. If you have children on your policy, their good grades can lower the premium.
When purchasing any large item, it’s always a good idea to shop around first. The Internet makes it easy to get multiple quotes, and you can tweak the various coverage and deductible levels to get different premium options.
December 19, 2011 6:08 pm
The Internal Revenue Service notes that by planning ahead, low- and moderate-income workers can take steps now to save for retirement and earn a special tax credit in 2011 and the years to come.
The saver’s credit helps offset part of the first $2,000 workers voluntarily contribute to IRAs and to 401(k) plans and similar workplace retirement programs. Also known as the retirement savings contributions credit, the saver’s credit is available in addition to any other tax savings that apply.
Eligible workers still have time to make qualifying retirement contributions and get the saver’s credit on their 2011 tax return. People have until April 17, 2012, to set up a new individual retirement arrangement or add money to an existing IRA and still get credit for 2011. However, elective deferrals must be made by the end of the year to a 401(k) plan or similar workplace program, such as a 403(b) plan for employees of public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations, a governmental 457 plan for state or local government employees, and the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees. Employees who are unable to set aside money for this year may want to schedule their 2012 contributions soon so their employer can begin withholding them in January.
The saver’s credit can be claimed by:
• Married couples filing jointly with incomes up to $56,500 in 2011 or $57,500 in 2012;
• Heads of Household with incomes up to $42,375 in 2011 or $43,125 in 2012; and
• Married individuals filing separately and singles with incomes up to $28,250 in 2011 or $28,750 in 2012.
• Like other tax credits, the saver’s credit can increase a taxpayer’s refund or reduce the tax owed. Though the maximum saver’s credit is $1,000, $2,000 for married couples, the IRS cautioned that it is often much less and, due in part to the impact of other deductions and credits, may, in fact, be zero for some taxpayers.
A taxpayer’s credit amount is based on his or her filing status, adjusted gross income, tax liability and amount contributed to qualifying retirement programs. Form 8880 is used to claim the saver’s credit, and its instructions have details on figuring the credit correctly.
In tax-year 2009, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, saver’s credits totaling just over $1 billion were claimed on just over 6.25 million individual income tax returns. Saver’s credits claimed on these returns averaged $202 for joint filers, $159 for heads of household and $121 for single filers.
The saver’s credit supplements other tax benefits available to people who set money aside for retirement. For example, most workers may deduct their contributions to a traditional IRA. Though Roth IRA contributions are not deductible, qualifying withdrawals, usually after retirement, are tax-free. Normally, contributions to 401(k) and similar workplace plans are not taxed until withdrawn.
Other special rules that apply to the saver’s credit include the following:
• Eligible taxpayers must be at least 18 years of age.
• Anyone claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return cannot take the credit.
• A student cannot take the credit. A person enrolled as a full-time student during any part of 5 calendar months during the year is considered a student.
• Certain retirement plan distributions reduce the contribution amount used to figure the credit. For 2011, this rule applies to distributions received after 2008 and before the due date, including extensions, of the 2011 return. Form 8880 and its instructions have details on making this computation.