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
October 12, 2011 6:50 pm
Q: How can I protect my home from creditors?
A: Check with your state. It may provide special protection through the filing of a homestead exemption, which exempts some or all of the value of your equity in the homestead – the home that you live in and the land on which it sits – from claims of unsecured creditors. Whether to file a homestead exemption will depend on your situation. Contact your county recorder's office for details.
October 11, 2011 4:59 pm
If this is the year you are ready to take advantage of historically low home prices and interest rates to buy a home of your own, you have probably begun to narrow your ‘wish list’ to certain towns, neighborhoods or school districts.
But before you begin to tour some likely nesting prospects, says California REALTOR® Ellen Parker, you should prepare a checklist you can begin to tick off before you make your home buying choice.
Begin, suggested Parker, by checking off these top 10 factors:
• Location – Is the house near your work, shopping areas, and/or preferred schools? Does it have a view, a nearby park, proximity to the beach, or any other asset of particular interest to you?
• Neighborhood – Drive up and down the surrounding blocks. Are the yards and houses neat and well-maintained? Do the streets seem safe for walking or biking?
• Special needs – Are there too many stairs? Too much driveway elevation? Is the yard suitable for children or gardening? Is there a place to set up the workshop or office you want?
• Curb appeal – What’s your first impression of the home’s exterior style? Do you like the look of the brick façade? The tile roof? The long walkway?
• Size and floor plan – The larger the home, the more it costs to heat and cool. On the other hand, does the number of rooms suit your needs? Is a downstairs master bedroom practical when children’s rooms are all on the second floor?
• Room to expand – Is there room to add a second bath? An indoor laundry? Another bedroom? Needs expand as families do. Look at the home long-term.
• The kitchen – Does it have the open floor plan you want? Will you have to replace cabinets? Counters?
• Closets and storage – Is there enough storage space? Enough to grow into? If you have to add more, will you be giving up living space?
• Windows and lighting – Do you prefer bright, sunny rooms? Or more privacy? Keep that in mind in your home search. Will you have to install double paned windows? Check that electric outlets and fixtures accommodate your lighting needs.
• Extra features – Does the home have a mud room? An inside laundry area? What other features does it have that you may or may not find elsewhere?
October 11, 2011 4:59 pm
Many people hear about friends or acquaintances that were relieved of credit card debt through debt settlement and think this might be the best solution to their payment problems. The Illinois CPA Society warns you need to fully understand debt settlement agreements before taking this serious financial step.
How Does Debt Settlement Work?
Simply stated, debt settlement is an approach to debt reduction in which the debtor and the creditor agree on a reduced balance that will be regarded as payment in full. A credit company must have a solid reason to believe that you are actually unable to pay them before entering into a debt settlement agreement. Unfortunately, you prove this by not paying them which is an instant black mark on your credit score that doesn't go away for seven years. Once you've proven you can't pay them, you must negotiate a balance you can pay. The debt doesn't go away, it just gets lowered.
What are some of the Consequences of Debt Settlement?
In addition to having already hurt your credit score by non-payment, you must pay the negotiated balance immediately. Also, any debt that is forgiven is considered income—and you will have to pay taxes on that income.
Are There Alternative Solutions?
You can call your credit card companies and ask them to reduce your rate. Point out that you've been a loyal customer who's paid on time in the past. If the first person you speak to isn't authorized to lower your rate, ask to speak to a supervisor. Be persistent and assertive.
Also try to get rid of your payments faster by trying to pay more than the minimum; even $5 makes a difference.
How do you get on top of already large minimum payments?
Cut out extras to make it work and pay your credit balances down first—no more premium cable, expensive data packages on your phone or eating out too many lunches or dinners. What you save goes to paying your credit card. Also consider selling through consignment shops or eBay things you bought but aren't using. Look at your budget and lifestyle carefully to see where you're living outside of your means and identify where you can cut back.
Debt settlement is a serious decision with serious repercussions. It's important to think beyond your current situation. With debt settlement you'll have a black mark on your credit report that could keep you from any number of new things you'd like in the future—a house, apartment, job or car.
For more information, visit www.icpas.org.
October 11, 2011 4:59 pm
According to a new nationwide survey, a majority of Americans don't practice what they plan when it comes to fire safety. The survey of 1,000 Americans revealed a surprising good news/bad news scenario related to fire escape planning.
Conducted by First Alert as part of a consumer education campaign tied to national Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 9-15), the survey showed that a majority (79 percent) of Americans reported having a home escape plan in place in case of fire or other emergencies. However, more than half (51 percent) have never practiced it, and 29 percent have only practiced it once.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends planning an emergency escape route and practicing it twice annually, while other fire safety organizations promote monthly drills to improve reaction time in case of an emergency.
"It is encouraging that so many people have given thought to a fire escape plan, but unpracticed, it cannot be as effective," says Deborah Hanson, director of external affairs for First Alert, a leader in residential fire and carbon monoxide (CO) detection devices. "The NFPA and local fire safety officials make strong recommendations because they know that proper planning can help prevent tragedy."
To develop an effective fire escape plan, First Alert and the NFPA offer the following tips:
• Involve everyone in your household in developing a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Identify two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Make sure everyone in the home understands the plan.
• Install smoke alarms throughout the home and test them monthly. Change batteries every six months to ensure proper function.
• Choose an outside meeting place (i.e. neighbor's house, a light post, mailbox, or stop sign) a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet after they've escaped.
• Have everyone memorize the emergency phone number of the fire department. That way any member of the household can call from a neighbor's home or a cellular phone once safely outside.
• Once you're out, stay out! Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, inform the fire department dispatcher when you call. Firefighters have the skills and equipment to perform rescues.
Practice your home fire escape plan at least twice a year, making drills as realistic as possible. Allow children to master fire escape planning and practice before holding a fire drill at night when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not to frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill.
It's important to determine during drills whether children and others can readily waken to the sound of smoke alarms. If they fail to awaken, make sure that someone is assigned to wake them up as part of the drill and in a real emergency situation. Also, consider switching to voice-enabled alarms such as the new Child Awakening Alarm from First Alert. This technologically advanced alarm uses a loud, pre-recorded and tamper-proof human voice to alert residents in case of smoke or unhealthy levels of CO and also to the specific location of the hazard within the home.
"Studies show that children ages six to 10 are awakened more readily by voice, so this new technology provides an increased level of safety," explains Hanson. "These alarms also help save time by identifying where smoke or CO is detected in the home, so residents can determine the fastest and safest ways out."
First Alert products range from combination smoke and CO units to smoke alarms with escape lights, along with basic battery-powered products.
For more information and a complete home safety checklist, visit http://www.firstalert.com/safety_checklist.php.
October 11, 2011 4:59 pm
Despite the recession and declines in home prices, Americans still view homeownership as being important to the economy and the American family, according to the “Housing 360 Survey” conducted among more than 3,005 homeowners and renters across the U.S.
“We thought people would be soured after watching home values fall but instead we found the typical American still places high value on homeownership,” says Frank Anton, CEO of Hanley Wood, LLC, a media and data research company serving the housing and construction industries. “We found this holds across all demographic groups and across the country, even in hard-hit places like Nevada and Arizona where there have been 50 percent or more declines in value. The increase in the rise of rental rates in many markets is one factor driving people to consider buying.”
The survey found that despite the recession and housing crisis, homeownership is still very important—that both renters and homeowners feel it is a good time to buy a home and 19 percent of homeowners and 29 percent of renters are considering buying a home in the next two years. In fact, the survey findings support that up to two million potential home buying consumers are waiting to jump into the market when the time is right.
The Hanley Wood “Housing 360 Survey” answers why renters and homeowners are not buying. For homeowners, there is no urgency to buy, and given the turmoil in the markets, many of them are happy where they are. For renters, there is also no urgency to purchase a home. There are major problems they are facing: First, they have the challenges of being able to qualify for a mortgage and raise the down payment. And second, they have concerns about the economy and their jobs.
“There are obstacles in the way of home buying. The overcorrection in the mortgage market is a drag on the process. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other and it’s stalling the housing market and therefore the economy,” says Kent W. Colton, president of The Colton Housing Group and senior fellow at Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Some significant findings in the survey include:
• Positive aspirations are tempered by harsh realities.
o Concern about the economy and job security
o Challenges in the mortgage market
o Concern about home equity and the direction of home prices
• Now is a good time to buy. Seventy two percent of owners and 59 percent of renters think now is a good or very good time to buy.
• New and existing homes both attractive. Twenty nine percent of owners and 12 percent of renters would prefer to buy a new home. Thirty four percent of owners and 41 percent of renters would prefer to buy an existing home. People prefer new homes because they are new and there is less maintenance. They prefer existing homes because they are more affordable and they want to live in an existing community.
• Renting is a preferred choice for many. People rent for financial reasons, for convenience and for flexibility. • Doubling up trends increased. Thirty percent of respondents are “doubling up” –living with adult children or parents.
• Now is a good time to remodel. Forty two percent of owners say now is a good time to remodel. Top remodeling priorities are maintenance and energy efficiency. Most homeowners will pay for remodeling from personal savings.
• Staying put in retirement. Sixty percent of homeowners plan to stay in their current home for their entire retirement.
For more information, visit http://www.hanleywood.com.
October 11, 2011 4:59 pm
Loan origination fee. Paid by the borrower to get a loan; it covers expenses incurred by the lender, such as the cost of the appraisal, credit report, title search, etc.
October 11, 2011 4:59 pm
Q: What factors should determine whether I decide to move or remodel?
A: Your personal needs, preferences and finances are all factors. If you’ve lived in your home awhile and prefer to stay in your school district or neighborhood, improving your existing space may work best for you. If a second bathroom is what you desire, it may also be cheaper to convert existing space than to relocate to another home. According to the American Homeowner Foundation, you can expect to spend 8-10% of your current home’s value when you move. Ask yourself if that money could be better spent on a remodeling project instead. Chances are you’d increase your home’s value, derive more pleasure from your home than you did previously, and save yourself the time, expense and headache of a move.
October 10, 2011 4:59 pm
As deer hunting season opens in many areas around the country, the risk of a deer-car collision increases. According to Fremont Insurance, there are several steps you can take to put the odds back in your favor when it comes to avoiding deer collisions:
• Stay aware, awake, and sober
• Car-deer crashes occur all year, but are more likely during spring and fall, and at dusk and dawn so drivers should take extra precautions during these times
• Pay attention to deer crossing and speed limit signs. Deer are creatures of habit and signs are installed at known deer crossing areas to alert you
• Be aware that deer are herd animals, and frequently travel single file. If you see one whitetail, watch for others
• Always wear a safety belt. It is your best defense against injury in any roadway crash
• Multiple independent studies have found that "deer whistles" are not effective at warding off deer so even if you have one, remain vigilant
In the event that a crash is unavoidable, Fremont Insurance offers this advice to drivers:
• Don't swerve. Brake firmly, stay in your lane, hold onto the steering wheel, and bring your vehicle to a controlled stop
• Pull off the road. Turn on your emergency flashers and be cautious of other traffic if you leave your vehicle
• Don't try to remove a deer from a roadway unless you are convinced it is dead. A wounded deer can cause serious injuries.
• Report the crash to the nearest police and your insurance agent.
For more information, visit www.fmic.com.
October 10, 2011 4:59 pm
The record-breaking summer may be over, but with winter around the corner, you can be sure high utility bills aren't going anywhere.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, winterizing your home windows can save up to 10 percent on energy bills right away, and replacing inefficient windows can save up to 25 percent.
Most heat escapes through gaps around windows. Failed sealant, gaps between the trim and the window, and bad window seals are the most likely culprits.
"You can find drafts with a simple trick. Hold a candle near the window on a windy day and watch the smoke," David Kozlowski of Glass Doctor® of Southeast Wisconsin says. "The more it moves, the worse the draft."
Once you find the draft, temporarily fix the problem with caulk or weather stripping. Fit older windows that remain unopened with weather stripping to prevent leaks. Be sure to measure the perimeter of the window and add at least 10 percent to account for overlap.
For windows you do open, you can replace the caulk yourself. After replacing the caulk, paint over it to complete the seal and protect the caulk.
If the economy has hurt your stock portfolio, consider an investment with a larger return. Increase your home's value and permanently fix drafts with replacement windows. Plus, the energy savings help pay for the windows over time.
The most energy-efficient replacement window is the Insulated Glass (IG) Unit. IG Units are multiple-pane windows with insulating gas between the panes. Thanks to the added insulation, IG units help sustain a consistent temperature. In the summer, IG units reduce heat gain, and in the winter, reduce heat loss.
If you already have IG Units, but they appear foggy between the panes, they are not insulating properly. Full-service glass shops can repair or replace bad IG Units, so your home can return to its original insulation factor.
With a hot summer, high heating fuel prices and a cold economy, lowering your heating and cooling costs is more important than ever. Invest in your windows and say goodbye to high utility bills.
For more information, visit http://www.glassdoctor.com.
October 10, 2011 4:59 pm
Carving pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns is an age-old Halloween tradition. However, it can turn into a plumbing nightmare if the pulp and seeds go down the garbage disposal.
With the usual increase in clogged kitchen sink drains and jammed garbage disposals plumbers see this time of year, Mr. Rooter® Plumbing is already prepared for the spike in calls.
"We stay busy during Halloween because people don't realize the pumpkin's stringy, slimy substance hardens and sticks to the pipes," says Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Mr. Rooter Corporation. "Our service professionals are on call 24/7, so we can repair plumbing emergencies and get our customers back to their Halloween activities and guests."
The trick to keeping pumpkin pulp and seeds from causing plumbing problems is being cautious when removing and disposing of the pumpkin's remains.
Mr. Rooter Plumbing has this advice:
• Carve pumpkins on a newspaper away from the kitchen sink.
• Do not put pulp and seeds into the garbage disposal or toilet.
• Instead, throw all pumpkin-related material and newspaper in the garbage.
• For those who recycle, put the remnants in a compost pile.
And the treat for following this recommendation—pumpkin carvers can use the pulp and seeds for Halloween desserts, breads and muffins. There are recipes that use both pulp and seeds.
For more information, visit www.mrrooter.com or www.mrrooter.ca.