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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
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Perkasie, PA 18944
Phone: 215-453-7883
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
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Tom's Blog

Word of the Day

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.
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IBM Survey: Traffic Down But Commuter Pain Way Up

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.

Survey Snapshot:

• 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).
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Free Financial Planning Available in Over 30 U.S. Cities

September 9, 2011 12:59 pm

With growing uncertainty about the U.S. economy driving increased financial anxiety among Americans, the importance of preparing for the future financially has never been more critical.

Recognizing the growing need for accessible and competent financial advice, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Financial Planning Association, Foundation for Financial Planning and the U.S. Conference of Mayors are collaborating to offer free Financial Planning Days (www.FinancialPlanningDays.org) in over 30 cities across the United States on Saturdays throughout October.

The second annual Financial Planning Days is a unique endeavor by local governments and hundreds of financial planners nationwide to provide free financial advice and education to the public through one-on-one advising sessions and workshops. Experts from the Financial Planning Association and highly qualified CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals will volunteer their time to offer "no-strings-attached" advice; planners will not distribute business cards or sell financial products or services.

In one-on-one consultations, financial planners will answer questions on topics ranging from budgeting, managing credit, getting out of debt, income taxes, homeownership, dealing with mortgage foreclosures, planning and paying for college, estate planning and insurance, and many other topics. Free classroom-style workshop presentations covering key personal finance topics will also be available.

Events are planned in the following metro areas:

Atlanta, GA Las Vegas, NV Reno, NV
Baltimore, MD Los Angeles, CA Sacramento, CA
Chicago, IL Louisville, KY San Antonio, TX
Columbus, OH Mesa, AZ San Diego, CA
Denver, CO Miami, FL San Francisco, CA
Elizabeth, NJ Minneapolis, MN San Jose, CA
Eugene, OR Newark, NJ Seattle, WA
Green Bay, WI Oakland, CA Virginia Beach, VA
Houston, TX Omaha, NE Washington, DC
Indianapolis, IN Philadelphia, PA
Irvine, CA Portland, OR

Free registration is available at www.FinancialPlanningDays.org or by calling toll- free at 1- 877-861-7826. Walk-ins are also welcome. Dates and locations are subject to change.
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Soggy Spring and Scorching Summer Add to Fall Home Maintenance Needs

September 9, 2011 12:59 pm

Thirty-three of the 48 continental states experienced above-average rainfall last spring (not to mention more rainfall in the past few weeks for much of the South and North.) An extremely warm summer followed "hot on the heels" of all that rain. The result? Many outdoor spring cleaning projects did not get marked off the homeowner's to-do list. Fall offers one more chance to get outdoor spaces and gear clean and protected before winter's arrival puts the deep freeze on outdoor projects. Consider the following Fall projects from thompsonwaterseal.com:
Start at the Top. For a small space, clogged gutters can cause big damage, because water doesn't drain properly. Instead, it can damage everything from the foundation, wood and landscaping to the roof—and it can even find its way indoors to cause damage there. Check out tools that allow you to bypass the ladder and clean the gutters from the ground.
Wet Paint. Jeff Wilson, host of multiple programs on the diy network and HGTV, says, "I worked for a painter who said a paint job would last twice as long if you cleaned the siding every two years. Removing dirt and killing the mold, mildew, and algae on a surface helps to eliminate some of the paint's enemies." Take the opportunity to check for bare patches of wood where the paint has blistered and peeled. Since exterior coatings like paint and stains shouldn't be applied when temperatures are over 90 degrees, fall is a good time for touchups.
Don't Pay The Price For Snow and Ice. Wood decks and fences, as well as concrete walkways and patios, can all be damaged over the winter by water absorption and repeated freeze/thaw cycles (or wet/dry cycles), which cause cracking. (De-icing salts can also damage concrete surfaces.) Clean them, then apply a waterproofing coating to stop water absorption over the winter. (These types of products do recommend minimum temperature guidelines for application, so check the label on the product you are using.)
Bring It On Inside: It's also a good idea to clean any outdoor furniture, cushions or hammocks that you're going to store and bring in fragile garden decor or pots. Put your lawnmower to sleep for the winter by sharpening the blade, changing the oil, and adding a bit of fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank. Do the same for trimmers, tillers, etc. All other gardening tools should be cleaned, sharpened if necessary, and lightly oiled before putting them away, too (after you plant your bulbs!).
Drain Hoses. Any water left in them may freeze, expand, and burst the hose, so this is a critical step. While many newer homes will have frost-free spigots outside, older homes won't, so shut them off from the inside if possible or cover them with an insulated cover if it regularly falls below freezing (about $2 each).
Clean-Up On Good Deals: Reward yourself and get ready to greet spring, 2012 in style. Late summer is the time retailers offer great clearance discounts on all types of outdoor furniture, cushions and accessories. Check online as well as traditional "brick and mortar" stores.
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Travel Tech for Today's Road Warrior

September 8, 2011 6:59 pm

Traveling for business isn't what it used to be. Gone are the days of itchy polyester suits, chunky flip-phones and maps the size of Texas. According to a national survey released by Hyatt Place, and conducted by Harris Interactive, 50 percent of today's road warriors say that life as a business traveler is easier and more productive now than it was 10 years ago, thanks in large part to modern hotels and evolving technology, keeping travelers both connected and comfortable.

Meet the Road Warrior 2.0

• Mobile masters: When asked to go on a business trip without underwear or a smart phone, 64 percent of business travelers surveyed would rather leave their underwear at home.
• On the go: 69 percent of business travelers surveyed say they travel the same amount or more for work than they did a few years ago. While today's technology has not reduced their travel time, half of respondents report that business travel is easier than ever, seemingly in large part to this new technology.
• The boondoggle is back: The top perk of business travel is exploring new places: two-thirds of those surveyed agreed that business travel provides an escape from everyday life and a sense of adventure. There's also more time for fun: 69 percent find it easier to meet new people, and 59 percent find it easier to read a book, magazine or newspaper on the road.
• Keep in touch: 70 percent of business travelers surveyed are in touch more often while on the road and spend more time each day communicating with friends and family while traveling for business versus at home (an average of 33 minutes versus 19 minutes per day).
Travel tech expert Katie Linendoll recently teamed up with Hyatt Place to provide tips on the best gadgets and amenities for making life easier on the road.
"A smart phone is a must," she says. Here are some of her favorite travel uses for it—beyond the obvious:
• GPS: These devices can cost up to $20 a day with your rental car, so ditch that extra cost and use your phone.
• Mobile hotspots: One of my current "can't live with-outs." It's an additional $20 or more on your plan, but is worth it for fast Internet connectivity for your laptop, netbook or tablet. It works great in airports or in any meeting.
• Apps: I love photography apps to create great souvenirs and they make your phone's pics look like they were taken professionally. One of my favorites to use is the Camera ZOOM FX app. I also use local apps like AroundMe to find restaurants, ATMs, shops or the local FedEx to ship work or supplies back home.
When it comes to finding a hotel, Linendoll recommends finding one that lets you stay fully connected. "Look for hotels like which offer free Wi-Fi, 24/7 food options, and a layout that smartly integrates technology so it's easy to work on the go," she says.

In addition to choosing the right hotel, Linendoll recommends a few more travel items to make your trip more fun and productive.

• eReaders: Portable gadgets that are lightweight and can keep you entertained without adding bulk to your luggage. At under a pound, you can carry thousands of books and read them anywhere.
• Portable Wireless Speakers: I always bring one with me so I can hook it up to my laptop or tablet for some loud sound, or add it to my Bluetooth to serve as a speakerphone for conference calls.
• Headphones: They're an obvious must for in-flight—you need to find a pair that not only stays in your ear, but is comfortable and packs easy.

For more tips and travel ideas, and to enter for a chance to win a head-to-toe business traveler makeover, which is worth more than $8,000 and includes many of Linendoll's must-have gadgets, visit www.facebook.com/hyattplace.
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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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