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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
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Tom's Blog

Techniques for Long Lasting Deck Surfaces

September 8, 2011 6:59 pm

Stained and painted decks are subject to rough treatment from natural causes. Rain and sun alternately expand and contract the deck material, playing havoc with any coating that has been applied. During winter, snow and ice create a state of continuous moisture. Decks that sit on or very close to soil can experience a wicking effect, whereby moisture in the soil us drawn up right through the wood as sunshine beats on the deck surface.

In fact, according to Dave Chillemi of CertaPro Painters ® in Westchester, NY, it's very unusual for horizontal deck surfaces to hold their good looks for more than two years before needing careful attention.

In preparation for applying exterior paint or stain to your deck, CertaPro suggests the following actions take place:

Mechanical stripping - Using a 3-head sanding machine often results in the best surface for applying coatings that will last. Before using the sander to strip the surface down to bare wood, it's important to countersink screws and nails on the surface to be sanded. This prevents the sanding machine from breaking the screws and nails or being broken by them. Once the surface is clear, clean and smooth, the new coating can be applied.

Pressure washing - Surfaces that are free from chipping or peeling paint may need little more than a good pressure washing with an appropriate cleaner to remove dirt and mildew prior to applying a new coating.

Chemical stripping - Environmentally safe chemical stripping is a good option if there is a significant amount of old coating to remove. Paint removal systems offer better control and are more dependable than other chemical strippers.

Many homeowners become weary of their stain or paint's lifespan and are tempted to apply several coats of stain or painting colors to make the renewed surface really last.

"Don't do it," advises Chillemi. "Usually a single coat is best, and never go above two." On decks, product build-up leads directly to product failure—in the form of cracking and peeling. "And in a relatively short period of time," adds Chillemi.

For choosing your stain or exterior paint, current trends favor a more natural "variable" finished look rather than an expanse of uninterrupted solid color, but there are enough style options to please every design taste.

For more information visit www.certapro.com.
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Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

September 8, 2011 6:59 pm

Fall offers homeowners a perfect chance to wrap up home maintenance projects. And in some areas, like Chicago, the pleasant weather creates an ideal setting for working outdoors in advance of a brutal winter. Angie's List asked highly rated home improvement companies to provide their most recommended fall home maintenance projects.

Rake up the leaves: Fallen leaves can deprive the lawn of crucial sunlight during the fall months. If leaves accumulate and become wet, they can lead to mold growth and create an unpleasant odor. Another option is to finely mulch the leaves with a lawnmower.

Clean out gutters: Gutters blocked by dead leaves and other debris can overflow, which may lead to serious damage to a home's roof, walls or foundation. For the best results, scoop out all debris and spray the gutters clean with a hose.

Check and replace air filters: Fall is the perfect time to check and replace HVAC filters. It improves air quality and promotes better air circulation. Plus, it's an inexpensive and easy task.

Clean carpets: All sorts of dirt and grime get tracked into carpet during the summer. Experts recommend at least one annual cleaning by a professional company to prolong a carpet's useful life.

Store outdoor furniture: Items like patio furniture and grills can deteriorate or rust if left outside over winter. Experts recommend storing items in a garage or shed, or covering them tightly with a waterproof tarp.

For more information, visit www.angieslist.com.
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Tips for Smarter Driving

September 8, 2011 6:59 pm

High gas prices and an uncertain economy are putting vehicle fuel efficiency at the top of many drivers' priority lists. A 2011 survey by Consumer Reports found that 62 percent of those surveyed are planning on making their next car much more fuel efficient. But what if a new vehicle isn't in your budget? Take heart —there are steps you can take now that can help increase fuel efficiency in what you're driving today.

John and Helen Taylor, known as the world's most fuel efficient couple, hold 89 world records and travel the world stretching the boundaries of fuel efficiency, are here to help others do the same. The Taylors say that by simply following the MAP to Smarter Driving, drivers can become more fuel efficient and do it on a budget. The MAP includes:

Maintenance

Perform smart maintenance before you drive, including:

• Make sure tires are not over- or under-inflated. Proper air pressure cuts down on fuel used while driving. Keeping tires at the correct pressure can improve your gasoline mileage by more than 3 percent.
• Keep your engine well tuned and repair problems immediately. If your car has failed an emissions test or is noticeably out of tune, repairing the problem could improve your gasoline mileage by 4 percent, on average.

Actions

Practice smart actions and behaviors while you're behind the wheel:

• Avoid the highs and find the lows. Speeding, rapid acceleration and braking can lower gasoline mileage by five percent at lower speeds and by 33 percent at highway speeds. You should assume that each five mph driven over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.29 per gallon for gas (savings based on an assumed fuel price of $3.65 per gallon).
• Also, avoid idling. Idling gets zero miles per gallon.
Products
Purchase smart products at the right price without sacrificing quality:
• Choose a high-quality gasoline. Lower-quality gasolines can leave harmful carbon deposits or "gunk," which can build up on intake valves and fuel injectors. This negatively impacts engine performance, vehicle responsiveness and reduction of fuel flow -- all potentially leading to reduced fuel economy.
• Use a loyalty or rewards payment card to save. The Taylors suggest stretching your budget. Shell has teamed up with leading grocers in more than 110 markets across the U.S. where you can earn rewards for using your existing supermarket loyalty card and then redeem the points at participating Shell stations. Another option is to use a Shell payment card that saves you money at more than 14,000 Shell stations across the U.S.
Fuel Efficiency Myths
• Gadgets can improve gas mileage. Be wary of any devices that say they can get you better mileage. The EPA has found that very few provide any fuel economy benefits -- and some may even damage the engine or increase exhaust emissions. For a list of tested products, visit www.epa.gov.
• Replacing the engine air filter improves fuel efficiency. For older cars with carburetors, this can be true. But today's fuel-injected engines have the fuel-air mixture adjusted by computers. Changing a dirty air filter might improve engine performance, but it won't affect fuel economy.
• It's more fuel-efficient to turn on the AC and close the windows. Rolling down your windows can cause an increase in your fuel consumption if you attempt to drive the same speed because of the drag from the wind. Yet, it is important to note that air conditioning can also put added strain on the engine by using fuel to operate. So, whenever possible use the fan instead.

For more information, visit www.Shell.us/smarterdriving or www.fueleconomy.gov.
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Wet Basement Prevention Tips

September 7, 2011 4:59 pm

Regional Spotlight—Parts of New England experienced rainfall amounts of 11inches and upwards. Considering that 1 inch of rainfall equals 27,000 gallons of water per acre, some areas received more than a quarter million gallons of rainfall per acre.

While there’s not much that can be done for basements in a flooded zone, homeowners in other areas can still help prevent ground and surface water from becoming a problem. B-Dry System of Maine and New Hampshire, a three-decade-old basement waterproofing company, has some recommendations to help avoid basement water problems.

Start by keeping your rain gutters clear of leaves. Extend the gutter downspouts away from the home to help protect the vulnerable loose soil next to the basement walls.

Some other things homeowners can do to prevent basement leakage include correcting any surface water problems by re-contouring the yard to direct surface water away from the home and basement. The more water you can steer away from your home, the less water your drain tiles and waterproofing system needs to handle.

Protect your basement windows with window wells and clear plastic covers to prevent window leaks. If you rely on a sump pump to keep your basement dry, consider getting a battery backup unit, a power inverter or automatic generator to provide uninterrupted service during a power outage. Being that power outages caused by Hurricane Irene are still widespread up the whole east coast, this is extremely useful advice.

With nearly three months left in the 2011 Hurricane Season, homeowners can take steps to limit the damage to their homes.

For more information, visit http://www.b-dry.com.
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Know Your State Licensing

September 7, 2011 4:59 pm

Regional Spotlight—Although navigating the ins and outs of finding a licensed contractor can be tricky, it is essential to take your time to do your research; granting an electrical novice access to your home's AC/DC currents could end in a smoky ruin. 

For a Washington, D.C. resident in the hunt for a good electrician, choosing between a local company versus one in Maryland or Virginia requires understanding the laws that govern electricians in each state. In most cases, states have different requirements for contractor licensing. 

If you decide to gather estimates from different companies in two or more of the states, it's important to know the laws governing contractors in each one. 

Here's the breakdown on basic qualifications for contracting work in the three different states: 

In Virginia, a contractor who performs any work over $1,000 must be licensed by the state. Licensing also is required for individuals and businesses working with asbestos and lead abatement as well as gas fitting. 

In Maryland, a license is required for any home improvement work as well as any asbestos and lead abatement work. However, general construction contractors do not require a license. Typically, general construction contractors oversee or provide materials for the renovation, but don't perform the work themselves. The individuals actually working on your home improvements should, however, be licensed. Maryland HVACR contractors must also be licensed, with the "R" standing for refrigeration—a slight variation from just the HVAC requirements in D.C. and Virginia. 

In the nation's capital, a license is required for any work contract exceeding $300 in cost. In addition, if you're having trouble with asbestos poisoning and/or a flighty fridge, you want to make sure your contractor is licensed to properly deal with that too.

For more information, visit www.angieslist.com.
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Weak Employment Continues to Impede Economic Recovery

September 7, 2011 4:59 pm

September's Consumer Reports Index, a measure of overall consumer financial health, showed signs that sentiment is improving after plummeting to its lowest level in nearly two years. With the poor job market, recovery is a grueling process.

"Weak employment growth is the number-one issue facing Americans," says Ed Farrell, director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center. "Continued improvement in Sentiment and sustained declines in financial difficulties faced by consumers, hinges on getting American's back to work."

The Consumer Reports Sentiment Index rose to 48.8, up from 43.4 in August. The figure represents the percentage of people saying they were financially better off versus worse off than they were a year ago. The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker, a gauge of the breadth and depth of financial difficulties among American households, dropped 15.3 points to 45.3 in September, reflecting a drop in financial difficulties including inability to pay for health care, missed mortgage payments and falling behind on other bills. Employment remains weak. The Employment Index was virtually unchanged from last month, reflecting an economy shedding more jobs than it is creating. The underlying problem is anemic job creation. This month, the number of Americans who started a new job in the past 30 days was at its lowest level since March 2010.

"The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker showed a large swing in the right direction, but that's just a snapshot of the big picture," Farrell adds. "At this time, we are in an economy that is shedding more jobs than it is creating. Households that earn less than $50,000 a year, which represent nearly half of the population, continue having trouble finding new jobs, paying bills and affording health care."

While the North East states saw a rise in financial difficulties, the North Central, South and Western regions showed a large decline in financial difficulties reflected by the Trouble Tracker Index.

The retail indicators tracking recent and planned spending declined after moving in a positive direction in August. The Past 30-Day Retail Index* registered a 10-month low.

For more information, visit http://www.ConsumerReports.org
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For Your Graduate: College Grads Can Land the Job of Their Dreams

September 7, 2011 4:59 pm

You may have aced Intermediate Accounting, but you didn’t count on getting lost on the way to your first big job interview. So you arrived late and flustered, chugged a restorative cup of coffee in the reception area, and then offered your interviewer a sweaty handshake.

Those simple mistakes may have cost you the job, according to Patricia D. Sadar, a 20-year veteran of Human Resources Management and author of Congratulations…You Aced the Interview and Congratulations…You’re Hired (www.congratsbooks.com) for recent college graduates.

“Students and parents alike spend their valuable time and hard-earned money to get into the right school and earn their college degree,” says Sadar, an adjunct professor at Florida International University. “It seems as though they forget the big picture—landing the job.”

That’s an even greater challenge in today’s market, which can be especially hard to crack for young workers. Sixty percent of recent college graduates do not have full-time jobs in their fields of study, according to a spring CNN Money report citing the job-placement firm Adecco Group.

Sadar’s CliffNotes-style books point students towards the career fast lane. Some tips include:

• Tailor your résumé to the job: Recruiters often simply scan résumés, so be sure the experience and skills being sought are easy to spot, and the same information is repeated in your cover letter. Include a professional summary, competencies, strengths and accomplishments all focused on the position for which you’re applying.
• Prepare for the interview – what you do before, during and after counts: Know how to get there and allow extra time so you don’t arrive late. Don’t use strong cologne or tobacco products, and don’t drink coffee beforehand, all of which can be smelly turn-offs. Do pop a breath mint – not chewing gum, which has no place in an interview. If your palms are sweaty, wipe your hand discreetly before giving a firm handshake. Follow up with a thank-you note to the interviewer within 24 hours.
• Be truthful when asked about weaknesses: People often avoid these questions or answer by presenting what they consider to be a strength as a weakness, such as “I’m a workaholic” or “I’m a perfectionist.” The interviewer wants to know if you can recognize your weaknesses and how you’re working on them, or whether you can admit mistakes and learn from them. Be prepared to honestly discuss one weakness and one past mistake.
• Ask questions, but not about salary, benefits, sick or vacation time: Go prepared to ask three to five questions about the company, the department or the position. You might ask the interviewer to describe the ideal candidate for the job, what he or she most enjoys about working for the company, or what the company’s biggest challenges will be in the coming year.
• Remember, mealtime interviews are not about the food: Order a conservatively priced meal that doesn’t have a strong smell and that you can eat without making a mess. Don’t order an alcoholic beverage, even if your interviewer does, and mind your table manners.
• Be courteous to everyone you meet, from the parking lot to the restroom: Don’t underestimate the importance of parking attendants, receptionists and security guards, who often have influence with decision-makers. The person in the elevator or at the lavatory could be the CEO or a potential future boss.
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Word of the Day

September 7, 2011 4:59 pm

Fixtures. Any personal property that has been permanently attached to real property and, therefore, included in the transfer of real estate. For example, the kitchen sink is a fixture.
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Question of the Day

September 7, 2011 4:59 pm

Q: Should I hire a home inspector for a new home?

A: You would think not since it is new and the developer has to adhere to local construction guidelines. However, err on the side of caution – always hire an inspector, whether the home is old or new.

You can ask the builder to provide copies of any inspection reports on the property, architectural plans, surveys and pertinent construction documents for your inspector to review.

The inspector should either be a professional home inspector, an engineer, an architect or a contractor. When hiring a professional inspector, look for one who belongs to a home inspection trade organization, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).

This group has developed formal inspection guidelines and a professional code of ethics for its members. Membership in ASHI is not automatic. Proven field experience and technical knowledge about structures and their various systems and appliances are required.

As for rates, they vary greatly. Many inspectors charge about $400, but costs increase based on the scope of the inspection.
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5 Easy Ways to Become a Millionaire

September 6, 2011 4:59 pm

Who doesn’t want to be a millionaire? It’s a status most people aspire to—and, says Thomas J. Stanely, co-author of The Millionaire Next Door, it’s easier than ever to become one for those who lead a relatively frugal lifestyle and adhere to a few simple financial guidelines.

Stanley points to research that shows how five lifestyle and financial decisions can set you on the road to realizing your dream to be a millionaire:

1. Marry only once – The average millionaire is married with three children and a wife who may or may not work but is often a better budgeter than her husband. Marrying only once avoids the cost of divorce and remarriage, not to mention the cost of alimony, child support, etc.
2. Live on one income – If you and your spouse have two incomes, try to structure your expenses so you can live on one income and save/invest the second. Doing so provides a safety cushion if one spouse loses a job, and a painless way to build your net worth.
3. Choose the right career – That means one you enjoy, either as an employee or in your own, self-employed profession. The right career is also one that is in step with the trends and that you feel passionate enough about to put in extra hours when necessary.
4. Invest in appreciating assets – Millionaires generally invest at least 20% of their household income each year, primarily in “transaction securities such as publicly traded stocks and mutual funds—and rarely sell their equities. Most buy instead of lease their cars and tend to live in their homes for 20 years or more.
5. Don’t live like a millionaire – Warren Buffett is a good example of a many-times millionaire who lives a frugal lifestyle in a mid-price home and is more concerned with increasing his assets than in living the so-called high life. With discipline and a little common sense, you can be a millionaire, too.
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