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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
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
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email: tom@tomskiffington.com
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Tom's Blog

Word of the Day

August 24, 2011 2:59 pm

Equity build-up. Term used to refer to the increase of one’s equity in a property due to mortgage balance reduction and price appreciation.
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Question of the Day

August 24, 2011 2:59 pm

Q: What is private mortgage insurance?

A: Also referred to as PMI, it is insurance you pay to protect the lender in case you default on the home loan. It is required when borrowers put down less than 20 percent of the purchase price.

Usually, a small fee is paid at the outset and a percentage of the face amount of the loan is added to the monthly payment.
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Understanding Your Garden; The Importance of Plant Location

August 23, 2011 2:59 pm

In our last report, I began focusing on the damage heat can do to lawns, plants and one’s investment in landscaping. Now I will examine the best locations for certain types of planting in hot climates, guided by advice from the Lebanon Seaboard Corporation —a manufacturer of lawn, garden, and professional turf products under the Preen label.

Besides the genetic makeup of plant species, the experts at Preen say another heat factor is plant location. Every yard has different microclimates.

It might be hot and brutal in the middle of the back yard, or on the west side of a brick wall, but 10 degrees cooler along the eastern foundation or under a shade tree.

Matching a plant to its heat and sunlight tolerance can mean the difference between survival and a fried plant. Don’t be afraid to move a plant that’s struggling—just wait until spring or fall to do it.

A third anti-heat maneuver is keeping plants healthy with good soil and adequate water. Plants lovingly rooted in rich, loose, compost-enriched soil put out better roots than ones jammed into lousy clay or packed shale.

That makes them better able to deal with any stress, including heat and drought.

And be careful not to overdo it with water. Even in hot, dry conditions, it’s possible to kill a plant by rotting its roots.

Use your finger or a watering gauge to make sure the soil really is dry a few inches down where the roots are. If it’s already damp or wet, more water isn’t the answer.

Hydrangeas are a perfect example of a plant that wilts from excessive heat. The large leaves often wilt in daytime heat but recover at night when the temperatures cool.

If a hydrangea is still wilted first thing in the morning, then it most likely is dry soil —or it’s in the process of dying from previous over watering. Dead roots can’t deliver moisture, so the result looks like drying.

A 2- to 3-inch covering of mulch is a good way to both keep moisture in the soil and prevent sunlight from baking plant roots. Bare soil in the sun can be 20 or more degrees hotter than the air temperature, and on 95-degree days, that’s bad news for plant roots.

Shade trees and vine-covered arbors are other ways to spot-protect those heat-baked parts of the yard. And using a mulch product like Preen Mulch Plus is a great way to maintain moisture and help to prevent weeds from growing.
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ABCs of Back-to-School Savings

August 23, 2011 2:59 pm

An estimated 56 million students will be enrolled in elementary, junior high and high schools across the nation this fall. While retailers eagerly embrace the back-to-school season, many parents cringe as the costs add up for school supplies, sporting equipment, electronics and new clothes.
Today's tough economy makes it challenging to invest in our children's education and future, and purchasing school supplies can be especially expensive. Stretch your family's back-to-school budget with these smart saving tips: 

Assess Wants vs. Needs. Before you leave the house, make a list of items you'll need and be realistic about prioritizing needs and wants. Do a complete inventory of what supplies you already have at home. Sure, it's fun to buy all new, but if you just bought a new set of markers or a package of folders last spring, you can probably hold off a few months before restocking. 

Remember, too, that prime shopping season is before school starts. Delaying non-essential purchases on items such as clothing until after school is in session (such as during or after the Labor Day holiday, when items are marked down) can net big savings. 

Budget, Budget, Budget. Once your prioritized list is complete, determine what you can afford to spend on each category—school supplies, electronics, clothing and other. Use free online budgeting tools to help you stick to that budget. Comparison shop, check out online deals and watch store circulars for sales. Subscribe to receive emails, text or Twitter alerts from your favorite stores for special sales. Some stores even reward shoppers who "check-in" through social sites with more discounts. 

In addition, some states also offer a tax-free holiday for back-to-school shopping. Buying in bulk can save money, too. Look for multi-packs of items like scissors, pencils and markers. 

Don't forget that the annual back-to-school shopping excursion can be a great money management learning exercise for older kids. Share your budget with them, and help them make selections to keep your checkbook on target. 

Check for Student Discounts. By having a student living in your home, you may be eligible for savings and not even know it. Many manufacturers, especially software publishers, offer education eligibility discounts, and some stores offer price breaks for students, too. 

For example, check out Academic Superstore (www.academicsuperstore.com), an online store that works with leading brands to sell deeply discounted products. The website's catalog of more than 20,000 education-focused products includes school supplies, full-version software titles and consumer electronics at prices up to 80 percent off retail value. Some items are at such deep discounts that you will be asked to provide proof of academic eligibility—which for some products is as simple as providing an.edu domain email address or school ID. 

Surf the Net for Deals
The Internet is a great place to find bargains. And many office supply and retail websites offer free shipping. Use online tools that let you compare prices of multiple websites to find the best deals. Don't forget to search for online coupon codes that can help stretch your dollar. 

You can also save money by checking out the many online auction and trade sites. Bid on larger bundles that include several items on your list. You can further save money by trading gently used clothing and supplies with other area families. Look through the online forums of local freecycle and swap sites to find "new to you" items. 

With a little pre-planning and discipline, you can manage through the financial stress and focus instead on setting a positive tone to send your kids back into the classroom.
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Top Tips for Party Prep

August 23, 2011 2:59 pm

Holidays, graduations or barbeques—no matter what the occasion, the gathering place at any home party is the kitchen. It's where we cook, where guests congregate, and often where refreshments are served. Because of this, the kitchen also is a likely place for clutter, spills and the general chaos that results from party food preparation. Home entertaining expert Jeanne Benedict offers tips for preparing your kitchen for a celebration, including beautifying what she calls the centerpiece of the kitchen—your countertop.
According to Benedict, the kitchen is the room that will make the first—and most lasting—impression on guests. Keeping surfaces glistening is the easiest thing a host can do to make an immediate difference in its look and feel. 

"When properly cleaned and protected, there is nothing that surrounds a room in luxury and stands the test of time like natural stone," says Benedict, host of DIY Network's "Weekend Entertaining" and author of four books including "The Sophisticated Cookie" and "Celebrations." 

"And, just like leather and wood in your home, specialty products should be used to care for natural stone. You want products that are designed to protect and enhance your granite, marble and slate surfaces by protecting them and keeping them clean and pristine." 

Benedict’s Tip: To keep natural stone countertops looking new over time, use a protective sealer. For everyday cleaning, avoid the use of all-purpose cleaners that can degrade the sealer and dull the surface.
Benedict's next prep step is to de-clutter. Because kitchen counters and tables are magnets for stray take-out menus, phone books, crayons and gadgets, she recommends finding them a permanent home when possible—or at least a temporary spot in a toy chest, a home office, the junk drawer or even the recycling bin. Once the clutter is clear, it's time to get your room ready to rock. 

Benedict’s Tip: Decorative container options are easy to find—from stylish boxes to desktop organizers. In a pinch, she suggests storing items such as keys or cell phones in an empty cookie jar and slipping papers into cookbooks that may be displayed on the counter. 

Finish off the natural look of stone with fresh flowers or a plant to add some life to the atmosphere. "Flowers simply make people smile, which is exactly the mood you want for a party," says Benedict. 

Benedict’s Tip: Because you'll be busy making party preparations, call your local florist and have them deliver an arrangement based on the theme of your party. You can cross that chore off your list. 

Once the kitchen is tidy and looking terrific, hosts can focus on decorating the rest of the house—from the table to the front door. "Let your creativity and countertop shine through, and you'll have the most fun of all," says Benedict.
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Teens Offer Parenting Tips That Encourage Teen Driver Safety

August 23, 2011 2:59 pm

All too often, news headlines tell of another teen killed in a car crash. It is estimated that 35 percent of teen casualties are due to vehicular driving accidents, making it the leading cause of death among teenagers in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

Through their participation in a high school program called Project Ignition, thousands of young people have stood up to this statistic and worked tirelessly to change the driving behaviors of their peers and broader communities. 

If you have a teen driver in your family who you want to help become safer on the road, here are some tips from students in Project Ignition: 

Open the lines of communication
• Talk with your teen about distracted driving. Make sure you both understand what things are dangerous distractions.
• Listen to your teen. Ask about what it's like being in the car with other teens, and what distractions there are to handle. 

Offer support
• Encourage your teen to use his or her voice. Role-play with your teen so that he can become comfortable saying things like, "We both want to live, so let me answer your phone or text while you drive."
• Help your teen get involved with programs at school like Project Ignition, so that he or she can be a positive example and make an impact. 

Set rules
• Set family ground rules for texting and calling while driving. Your teen needs to know you have high expectations, and what the consequences will be if the rules aren't followed.
• Know where your teen is going, who he or she will be with, and what time he or she is expected home. 

Be a positive example
• Model the behavior you want your teen to exhibit. If the phone rings while you're driving, don't answer it. Encourage your teen to answer your phone or text, allowing you to drive more safely.
• Speak up about distracted driving to your friends and peers in front of your teen driver. Help set an example, spread the word and save lives. 

For more information, visit www.sfprojectignition.com.

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Word of the Day

August 23, 2011 2:59 pm

Escheat. Reversion of property to the state when the owner dies without leaving a will and has no heirs to whom the property may pass.
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Question of the Day

August 23, 2011 2:59 pm

Q: What is equity?

A: It is the cash value of your property over and above what is owed on it, including mortgages, liens, and judgments.

The amount of equity almost always grows in a home over the years, although national and regional economic slumps or overbuilding might result in a temporary dip in prices.

The good thing is you can borrow against the equity that builds up in your home and use it for any number of reasons, including home improvements and to pay for college costs. It also is a source of income for you once the home is sold.

Equity is also what makes seller financing possible. If you have money to spare, you can always lend some to the buyer and collect interest on it.

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5 Smart Ways to Start Building Wealth

August 22, 2011 4:59 pm

In today’s economy, most of us have already figured out a few strategies that will help conserve cash. But taking the long view to building wealth may not be as easy for the average American, even with a regular paycheck.

Following are tips from five experts in the fields of money, debt, real estate and consumer affairs that may help set you on the right road to a more secure future:
• Consistent investment – Says Ric Edelman, CEO of Edelman Financial Services, “The best way to build wealth remains unchanged; invest as much as you can (maybe more than you thought you could) into a diversified set of low-cost mutual funds—and keep doing this for many years, no matter what.”
• Get rid of high-cost debt – From David Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies, “Paying off just one high interest credit card—and not using it again—will free up money to pay off other debts and/or move to a wealth-building plan. It may not be easy, and it will take time, but it must become a dedicated goal.”
• Buy a home – Ron Phipps, president of the National Association of REALTORS®, suggests: “Mortgage rates are low, selection is great, and prices are about one third lower than five years ago. Homeownership remains a long-term vehicle to financial independence—and, by the way, you get to live in your investment.”
• Start your own side business – Says Robert Paglianini, president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors, “Whether you can mow lawns, write marketing copy, babysit or paint houses, use your free time and your special skills to build a second income from your own side business.”
• Trick yourself into saving more – “One way,” suggests David Bendix, president of Bendix Financial Group, “is to see your human resources person ASAP and arrange to up your deductions a bit. Chances are you won’t miss the few bucks in your paycheck, and it’s a pretty painless way to save more.”
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What Every Car Owner Should Know

August 22, 2011 4:59 pm

Many car owners can expertly maneuver through rush hour traffic, but far fewer can expertly navigate their way under the hood. Automotive issues can leave many of us wondering "What's that sound?" and "Do I really need this repair?" or even worse, ignoring a problem altogether. 

Championship Tips
Drew Torrey and Matt Saunders are the national champions of the 62nd annual Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition. Their automotive know-how helped them beat 10,000 other high school automotive technology students from across the country to earn the championship title and tens of thousands of dollars in automotive scholarships and tools. These highly qualified students offer the following advice to help car owners properly maintain their vehicles while protecting themselves, their passengers and their wallets. 

Do a little light reading. Read your owner's manual and service booklet carefully. The auto manufacturer created this information specifically for your car, and it can answer a lot of questions, including which maintenance services you can do at home and which ones require a trained service technician. Heeding this advice can save you time and money in the long run. 

Pump it up (or deflate it). Make sure your car's tires are inflated to the proper pressure (measured in pounds per square inch or PSI). Improperly inflated tires wear out more quickly and can increase the possibility of a dangerous blowout. To find the recommended inflation pressure for your tires, check the tire information decal that is likely located on the driver's doorjamb, or in your owner's manual. Do not, however, rely on the PSI figure molded into the sidewall of the tire. You'll need just one small tool—an air pressure gauge—to check your tire pressure. 

Pay attention. Do not ignore your "check engine" light just because you don't know what it means. It can actually alert you to a variety of different problems, from a loose gas cap to a faulty oxygen (02) sensor. If the check engine light comes on, first tighten the gas cap to see if that solves your problem. If that doesn't work, visit your auto technician for further diagnosis, as the problems at-hand could cause increased exhaust emissions and decrease your fuel economy by up to 40 percent (according to the U.S. Department of Energy), potentially costing you more money in the long run than a professional repair would. 

Put on the brakes. If your car's brakes squeak while you're driving but stop making noise when you apply pressure to the brake pedal, your brakes may be in need of professional service. Your auto technician will be able to make a definitive diagnosis, but it's possible you could need new front disc brake pads and additional brake system work. 

Fill 'er up. If your car's automatic transmission seems to be shifting erratically you could be low on transmission fluid. You can check the level and add fluid using the procedures described in your owner's manual. If it's time to change the fluid, visit your local automotive shop. In either case, pay attention to this condition—ignoring a small problem with your transmission now could mean you'll have to shell out the money for a whole new one later on. 

For more information on the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition, visit www.autoskills.com.
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