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
September 12, 2011 6:59 pm
Q: Can you tell me more about FHA and VA?
A: The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is an agency within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Its main goal is to help provide housing opportunities for low- to moderate-income families. FHA has single-family and multi-family mortgage programs but does not generally provide mortgage funds. Instead, it insures home loans made by private lenders.
Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration (VA) guarantees home loans made available to veterans, reservists and military personnel, without any down payment. VA loans frequently offer lower interest rates than normally available with other kinds of loans, thereby making it easier for veterans to qualify for a home loan.
The maximum loan amount VA will insure varies by region. There is no restriction on the purchase price as long as the borrower has the cash to make up the difference between the loan amount and the purchase price.
September 12, 2011 4:59 pm
By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist
A quiet retreat or a bustling ambience? A bus ride away, or walking distance from everything? Finding the right neighborhood for you and your family can be quite a challenge—especially if you are moving into a region with which you are unfamiliar.
“Trust your real estate agent for good advice,” says Southern California REALTOR® and relocation specialist Ellen Parker. “Agents know the demographics, the pros and cons, and the price ranges in every area they serve. But it helps if you are confident—and forthcoming—about the kind of neighborhood you prefer.”
Parker suggests a family conference to narrow down the choices—and a checklist to help you help your agent find your ideal neighborhood:
• City or country – Are peace and quiet tops on your list or do you prefer being within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and nightlife?
• Schools – A sought-after school district means higher property values when you sell. If you have children, how important is the distance to schools, parks, libraries and community centers?
• Commuting distance – Will you be driving, bicycling, or taking public transportation to your work site?
• Affordability – Will you be happiest in a single family home, a townhome or a condo? Can you afford the water view location you want? Think carefully before you agree to spend up to your limit. These days, it’s a good idea to keep some cash in reserve.
• Get the stats – Ask your agent for crime statistics, neighborhood associations, school ratings and locations in the areas that interest you.
• Walk the neighborhood – Once you’ve settled on the areas you like, walk a few streets both in the daytime and in the evening. Are the homes well-maintained? Are there kids and others outdoors? Is the quiet broken by unwanted noise from airports, highways or railroads?
• Talk to the neighbors – Chat briefly with the guy at the gas station or parents waiting at the school. Do they like living here? What would they change? Do they seem friendly and welcoming? First impressions are very important. If anything makes you feel uncertain, tell your agent you want to check out another neighborhood or two.
September 9, 2011 12:59 pm
Gentrification. Process whereby private or government-sponsored development of certain aging neighborhoods results in the displacement of low- or moderate-income families by the more affluent and leads to an increase in property values.
September 9, 2011 12:59 pm
In the past five years, consumers have faced widespread outbreaks of food borne illnesses tied to foods—such as spinach, peanut butter and eggs—that are staples of the American diet.
The Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to prevent or shorten these outbreaks by developing the tools needed to rapidly track down foods that may be contaminated.
Two pilot projects—one for processed foods and the other for produce—will be conducted to explore how FDA and the food industry can quickly trace foods back to the common source of contamination that led to an outbreak of food borne illnesses. These pilots must include at least three different types of foods that were the subject of significant outbreaks in the five years preceding the January 2011 enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) will carry out the pilots, at FDA’s direction, under an existing contract with the agency. IFT is a Chicago-based nonprofit scientific society focused on food science and technology and has previously worked with FDA on product-tracing studies.
These pilots are mandated by the landmark food safety law that requires FDA to implement a system that is based on science and addresses food safety hazards from farm to table.
“We can prevent illnesses and reduce the economic impact to the food industry if we can more quickly discover what food may be causing an outbreak and what foods can be eliminated from consideration,” says Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.
What happens next
A product tracing system involves documenting the production and distribution chain so that a product can be traced back to a common source or forward through distribution channels if there’s evidence of contaminated food. The actions that follow may include removing the product from the marketplace and alerting the public if it has already been distributed.
“What we’re looking for is a system that is practical, feasible, and rapid,” says Sherri McGarry, senior advisor in FDA’s Office of Foods. “Our No. 1 priority is protecting public health.”
McGarry explained that IFT will work with the key groups that have a stake in this endeavor—food industry, state and federal government agencies, and consumers—in developing the pilot programs. The goal is to include industries that represent the food supply chain, including farms, restaurants, and grocery stores.
“We recognize the importance of engaging stakeholders throughout the process and will consider what is practical for facilities of varying sizes and capabilities,” says Taylor.
The pilot programs will evaluate the types of data that are most needed for tracing, ways to connect the points in the food supply chain, and how quickly data can be made available to FDA. A key goal in the pilot projects will be to explore methods to track food and identify a common source or supplier starting at multiple points of sale.
“We’re looking for a system that will allow FDA to quickly connect the dots along the food supply chain,” says McGarry.
After the pilots
After the pilot programs are completed and the additional data gathered, FDA will further facilitate tracing by establishing record-keeping requirements for foods that may pose a high public-health risk.
As part of that process—as mandated by FSMA—the agency will define what foods are high risk based on factors such as their safety history and the likely severity of an illness attributed to that food. The record-keeping requirements ultimately established under this law will apply only to these high-risk foods.
“The goal is to rapidly track these products, remove them from the food supply, and keep consumers from getting sick,” says McGarry.
For more information, visit www.fda.gov
September 9, 2011 12:59 pm
Through recent storms, exceptionally rainy weather and, of course, Hurricane Irene many homes throughout the country have been exposed to excess moisture and water—which could lead to mold growth if not handled properly.
Some types of mold can be a detriment to a healthy home, leading to eye irritation, wheezing and nasal congestion. To help raise awareness, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dedicates the month of September as National Indoor Mold Awareness Month.
To help homeowners ensure a healthy home, CertainTeed Corporation—one of North America’s largest building product manufacturer—offers the following tips:
• Fix leaks. Homeowners should check for leaky roofs, foundations, faucets and pipes on a regular basis, making sure they aren’t allowing extra moisture to accumulate in these areas. Leaks should be fixed as soon as they are found.
• Keep humidity under control. The ideal humidity for a home is between 30 and 50 percent. Relative humidity can be measured with an inexpensive moisture or humidity meter, available at most hardware stores.
• Plan your foundation. Homeowners should make sure that the ground slopes away from the building foundation, so that water cannot collect around or enter the foundation.
• Keep it dry. Homeowners should clean and dry any damp furnishings within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth.
• Check for odors. If you have had a leak, then the first sign of mold may be musty or moldy odors in the vicinity of the leak. Keep in mind you do not want to sniff for mold, or touch for mold—if you suspect a mold problem contact a certified mold inspector.
• Watch for ground water. Checking the exterior of homes regularly will help avoid the accumulation of ground water, which can cause mold. If found, homeowners should route water away using downspouts and re-grade to slope water away from the home.
For more information, visit http://www.certainteed.com
September 9, 2011 12:59 pm
There are many ways people can save money today, and some just require a slight change in day-to-day habits. Turning off a light when you leave a room; turning off the water when you brush your teeth. Here is a list of 25 ideas for saving money:
1. Turn off all lights when you leave a room. Train and reward your children to do the same—they are the worst about leaving lights on
2. Cancel gym memberships and others you are not using
3. Drink the free coffee at work or make coffee at home. Skip Starbucks. If you buy a $4 coffee 5 days per week, that’s $80 per month just in coffee!
4. Towel dry your hair instead of using a blow dryer
5. Stop smoking
6. Buy a less expensive home—this alone will reduce your monthly spending by hundreds (or thousands) of dollars
7. Buy less expensive cars
8. Do everything you can to increase your credit score. You will save tens of thousands of dollars in interest from any loans you have simply by having a better credit score.
9. Call your credit card companies and ask for a lower interest rate
10. Call every company you have monthly bills with and ask exactly what you are paying for each month. You will be surprised how many hidden fees are mysteriously added to your bills. You will never know this unless you ask.
11. Use energy saving light bulbs
12. Minimize your consumption of alcohol
13. Pack your lunch for work every day—avoid eating in restaurants
14. Get a job with a short commute
15. Did you know that if you pay any interest-bearing loans in 2 payments each month instead of one big payment, you knock thousands of dollars of interest off your total bill. So instead of paying a $1,200 mortgage payment all on the 1st of the month, set it up with your bank to pay $600 on the 1st and $600 on the 15th of each month. It’s easier to manage AND you save a ton of money!
16. Use fans instead of air conditioning (unless you live in 107 summer heat in Texas—you are excused!)
17. Hang dry your laundry
18. Hand wash your dirty dishes
19. Don’t leave the water running while brushing your teeth
20. Don’t leave the water running while scrubbing/shaving in the shower
21. Catch rain water you can use to water plants
22. Walk or ride a bike instead of using your car
23. Reduce your cable bill. Do you really need 200 channels and 3 DVR boxes?
24. Buy anything and everything you can from second-hand stores or yard sales. You will save thousands of dollars per year shopping smarter.
25. Use natural sunlight instead of electricity
Two things to NEVER cancel or reduce financially:
1. Always invest in high-quality foods for you and your family. Buying cheap foods will cost you a fortune (now and later) in medical bills, emotional and mental well-being.
2. Never cancel or reduce anything that will pay you or protect you later: 401K, retirement plans, insurance policies (health, life, disability, auto, etc.)
For more information, visit www.swparents.com
September 9, 2011 12:59 pm
It’s a tough time for selling a home, admits real estate entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran, a savvy business woman and a regular investor on television’s Shark Tank.
“But,” says Corcoran, sellers can improve their chances in today’s competitive market by following some basic but often ignored advice.
Here are Corcoran’s top ten tips for getting your home sold faster:
1. Don’t underestimate clean-up – Nothing turns off a potential buyer faster than an unkempt home. Be sure your home is seen at its neat and sparkling best.
2. Little things matter – Don’t ignore that leaky faucet or squeaky back door. They’re easy to fix and improve your chances of impressing finicky buyers.
3. Clear the canvas – Buyers need to visualize how they would make the space their own. Keep it neutral by clearing out family photos, personal collections, and items that clutter up a room.
4. Let the light in – Clean the windows, up the wattage of the light bulbs, and open the blinds or curtains and turn on the lights before every showing.
5. Don’t hang around – It’s tempting to trail behind them as buyers and agents tour your home. But doing so makes people uncomfortable. If you must stay home, wait on the porch or back yard and volunteer information only when asked.
6. Board the pets – Pets are a no-no at open houses. Even pet lovers are turned off by a smelly litter box or a puppy dogging their heels. Board pets or leave them with a neighbor—or take them with you before an open house.
7. Make showings available – Many of today’s buyers are busy young professionals. Increase chances for a sale by allowing showings at a buyer’s convenience even if after regular business hours.
8. Cool the open houses – They are a great way to being buyers when you list your home—but they lose appeal and suggest desperation if you schedule them too often.
9. Consider the first offer – Unless it is absolutely unacceptable, don’t be too quick to turn down the first offer. It may be the best one you will get—especially if the home lingers for many months on the market.
10. Negotiate wisely – Don’t take a low bid as an insult. Treat every bid as interest from a potential buyer, and make a counter offer.
September 9, 2011 12:59 pm
Q: What else should I take into account when buying a new home?
You can find out more about an existing property and neighborhood before you buy than you can a new home in a newly developed community.
When the home is on the outskirts of town, ask the developer about future access to public transit, entertainment venues, shopping centers, churches, and schools. Also review local zoning ordinances. A remote area can quickly turn into a fast food haven.
You want to ensure the neighborhood will not spiral out of control and lose its residential appeal.
Other things to consider:
• Ask homeowners already living in a development about the builder. If none currently live there, find out where the builder has previously built and speak to those owners to find out if the builder followed through on promises and needed repairs.
• Ability to make changes. Most homes in a development resemble each other. But the developer may impose restrictions on house color, landscaping, renovations, and other items that a homeowner may want to alter.
• Do not buy into the highfalutin images created by marketing experts. Form your own opinions about a property and only buy where you feel comfortable. After all, you are the one who will be living there.
September 9, 2011 12:59 pm
Freddie Mac. Common name for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, which buys and sells loans in the secondary mortgage market.
September 9, 2011 12:59 pm
A new IBM (NYSE: IBM) survey of the daily commute in a cross-section of some of the most economically important international cities reveals a startling dichotomy: while the commute has become a lot more bearable over the past year, drivers' complaints are going through the roof.
The annual global Commuter Pain survey, which IBM released earlier this week, reveals that in a number of cities more people are taking public transportation rather than driving, when compared with last year's survey. In many cities, there were big jumps in the percentage of respondents who said that roadway traffic has improved either "somewhat" or "substantially" in the past three years.
But that's only part of the story. In many cities, the survey recorded significant increases, when compared with last year, in the number of respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their levels of personal stress and anger and negatively affected their performance at work or school.
According to Naveen Lamba, IBM's global intelligent transportation expert, "A person's emotional response to the daily commute is colored by many factors – pertaining both to traffic congestion as well as to other, unrelated, issues. This year's Global Commuter Pain survey indicates that drivers in cities around the world are much more unsettled and anxious compared with 2010."
IBM compiled the results of the survey into its Commuter Pain Index that ranks the emotional and economic toll of commuting in each city, with the highest number being the most onerous. The Index reveals a tremendous disparity in the pain of the daily commute from city to city. Montreal had the least painful commute of the cities studied, followed by London and Chicago.
The survey results reflect an increased willingness to use public transportation and technology to improve the commute. Overall, 41 percent believe improved public transit would help reduce traffic congestion. Consider that even though globally only 35 percent of people changed the way that they get to work or school in the last year, 45 percent of those who have are opting for public transit.
• Fourteen of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that traffic had improved either "somewhat" or "substantially" over the past three years, with many of the cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (24% in 2011 vs. 12% in 2010), Toronto (23% in 2011 vs. 8% in 2010), Milan (27% in 2011 vs. 7% in 2010), Stockholm (42% in 2011 vs. 18% in 2010), Moscow (31% in 2011 vs. 16%), and Johannesburg (29% in 2011 vs. 13% in 2010)
• Despite improving traffic conditions, 12 of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their stress levels, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (45% in 2011 vs. 13% in 2010), Los Angeles (44% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Toronto (40% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), London (33% in 2011 vs. 19% in 2010), Milan (61% in 2011 vs. 38% in 2010), and Johannesburg (52% in 2011 vs. 30% in 2010).
• Eleven of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reporter year-over-year increases in respondents who said that roadway traffic has made them angry, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (35% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), Los Angeles, (29% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), and Toronto (29% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010).
• Eleven of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work or school, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (28% in 2011 vs. 8% in 2010), Toronto (29% in 2011 vs. 17% in 2010), Madrid (30% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Paris (35% in 2011 vs. 26% in 2010), Milan (40% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Stockholm (25% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), and Moscow (34% in 2011 vs. 25% in 2010).