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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
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Office Phone: 215-453-7653
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Tom's Blog

7 in 10 Smartphone and Tablet Users Pay Attention to Mobile Ads When Surfing Web, but Not when Gaming or Watching TV

August 2, 2011 4:59 pm

A recent mobile survey conducted by Prosper Mobile Insights™ included 203 smartphone and tablet users from the SSI Panel who completed the survey on their devices. The survey was collected from 7/20 - 7/22/11. Of the sample, 48% were male while 52% were female, and the average age of the sample was 40.

The data reveals that mobile users’ attention spans for advertisements viewed on their devices differ depending on where the ads are placed. Mobile users were most likely to pay full attention to ads when surfing the web on their devices and least likely when watching full TV episodes.

Over half of smartphone and tablet users said they never fully pay attention to ads on their devices when watching full TV episodes and playing games, according to a recent mobile survey conducted by Prosper Mobile Insights™ among smartphone and tablet users on their devices. 13.3% say they regularly pay full attention to advertising while watching TV on their device and 19.2% do the same while playing games. Ads found while surfing the web on a mobile device appear to get the most attention from mobile users: 

Paying Full Attention to Advertisements on a Smartphone or Tablet 

While Playing Games
Regularly: 19.2%
Occasionally: 30.5%
Never: 50.2% 

While Watching Video Clips
Regularly: 15.3%
Occasionally: 42.9%
Never: 41.9% 

While Watching Full TV Episodes
Regularly: 13.3%
Occasionally: 34.0%
Never: 52.7% 

While Downloading Apps/Music/Etc
Regularly: 19.7%
Occasionally: 39.9%
Never: 40.4% 

While Surfing the Web
Regularly: 35.0%
Occasionally: 37.4%
Never: 27.6% 

Source: Prosper Mobile Insights™ Smartphone Survey, July-11
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A Glimpse at 'Gluten-Free' Food Labeling

August 2, 2011 4:59 pm

Whether in muffins, rolls, or loaves, wheat bread is found in most households. But few consumers may appreciate the substance that helps the dough rise, keeps the bread from falling apart, makes it chewy, and adds to its flavor. 

That substance is gluten. Breads, cakes, cereals, pastas, and many other foods are made with wheat or added wheat gluten to improve their baking quality and texture. 

Technically, gluten represents specific proteins that occur naturally in wheat. However, the term “gluten” is commonly used to refer to certain proteins that occur naturally not only in wheat, but also in rye, barley, and crossbreeds of these grains and that can harm people who have celiac disease. The only treatment for this disorder is a life-long gluten-free diet. 

Eating gluten doesn’t bother most consumers, but some people with celiac disease have health-threatening reactions, says Stefano Luccioli, M.D., a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allergist and immunologist. They need to know whether a food contains gluten. 

FDA has been working to define “gluten-free” to:
• eliminate uncertainty about how food producers may label their products.
• assure consumers who must avoid gluten that foods labeled “gluten-free” meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA. 

FDA’s actions on Aug. 2 bring the agency one step closer to a standard definition of “gluten-free.” On this date:
• FDA reopens the public comment period on its proposed gluten-free labeling rule published on Jan. 23, 2007.
• FDA makes available, and seeks comments on, a report on the health effects of gluten in people with celiac disease. The report includes a safety assessment on levels of gluten sensitivity in people with the disease. 

Celiac Disease
According to the National Institutes of Health, celiac disease affects as many as 1 percent of the U.S. population. 

The disease occurs when the body’s natural defense system reacts to gluten by attacking the lining of the small intestine. Without a healthy intestinal lining, the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs. Delayed growth and nutrient deficiencies can result and may lead to conditions such as anemia and osteoporosis. Other serious health problems may include diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and intestinal cancers.
“Some people don’t get immediate symptoms, but when they do, they are typically gastrointestinal-related, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea,” says Luccioli. “In infants, there may be a lot of vomiting, and they don’t grow and thrive.” And some people do not have any symptoms at all, adds Luccioli, but still may have intestinal damage and risk for long-term complications. It is important for individuals with celiac disease, who may vary in their sensitivity to gluten, to discuss their dietary needs with their health care professional. 

Grocery shopping is challenging for people with this disease, says Andrea Levario, J.D., executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance. “When they find a product labeled ‘gluten-free,’ they don’t necessarily know what that means because today there is no federal standard for the use of this term.” 

Having a federal definition of “gluten-free” is critically important, says Levario. “If we have one national standard, the individual will know that all products labeled ‘gluten-free’ will have no more than a minimal amount of gluten.” 

Is Gluten-Free for Me?
“Eating gluten-free is not meant to be a diet craze,” says Rhonda Kane, a registered dietitian and consumer safety officer at FDA. “It’s a medical necessity for those who have celiac disease.”
“There are no nutritional advantages for a person not sensitive to gluten to be on a gluten-free diet,” she adds. “Those who are not sensitive to gluten have more flexibility and can choose from a greater variety of foods to achieve a balanced diet.” 

Gluten-free is not synonymous with low fat, low sugar, or low sodium. For people who must be on a gluten-free diet, Kane says it's important to check the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts information on food labels to find the most nutritious options. 

How Is FDA Proposing to Define ‘Gluten-Free’?
In 2007, FDA proposed to allow manufacturers to label a food “gluten-free” if the food does not contain any of the following: 

1. an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains
2. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
3. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten
4. 20 ppm or more gluten 

For more information, visit www.FDA.gov

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Travel Industry Sees Explosive Growth in Vacation Rental Market; Renters Urged by Travel Insured International to Take Precautions

August 2, 2011 4:59 pm

Travel industry research has revealed a sharp rise in the vacation home rental market. The company Vacation Home Rentals recently projected a 13.1 percent increase in its 2011 rental business, and the 2010 Radius Global Market Research survey revealed an $85-billion market in U.S. and European vacation rentals.

Travel Insured International®, an independently-owned provider of travel coverage, warns that risks necessitating trip insurance do not decrease with a vacation home rental compared to other types of trips such as cruises, resort hotel stays, or guided tours. Travel accidents and illness, weather-related travel or destination disruptions, and natural disasters are all still part of the vacation risk potential when the vacation destination is a rental home. And with most vacation rentals requiring full prepayments prior to arrival, including taxes, security and cleaning fees, the loss of a complete vacation's cost is very possible if not covered by travel insurance. 

Tips for Vacation Home Renters
Travel Insured International® offers vacation home renters these tips to protect them from problems that can spoil their vacation:
• Strongly consider using a travel industry professional experienced in vacation home rentals who can recommend and book the properties you are looking for.
• Make sure your rental home owner or a rental manager is nearby to attend to any problems. Talk to them before deciding to rent.
• Ask your travel professional if the rental price is negotiable, especially if you can stay longer. Sometimes an owner who wants to fill a rental calendar week will be flexible on price, or offer last-minute specials.
• Ask about towels, bed linens, cleaning and cooking utensils, and other necessities in the house.
• Remember the difference between "waterfront" and "water view," which is often a partial side view.
• Confirm the home contains the exact items you want: DVD, stereo, BBQ grill, WiFi or other priorities.
• Use MapQuest or other mapping devices to pinpoint the exact rental location. Learn the public transportation available or private transportation required and plan ahead accordingly.
• Pay only with a credit card. Obtain the written terms and conditions of rental, including security deposit, cleaning fees, taxes, etc., along with booking confirmations and payment receipts. Remember that all trip insurance claims require documentation to be correctly resolved!
• Always inspect a home thoroughly upon arrival to immediately report any existing damage, stains etc. that might otherwise be made your responsibility. Make sure entertainment units work properly.

For more information, please visit http://www.travelinsured.com.
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Getting Your Home Ready for the Change of Season

August 2, 2011 4:59 pm

The change in seasons should bring about more than just a change of wardrobe. It's important to check out your appliances and home systems now in order to help prevent unnecessary repairs when you need those systems the most. 

To help you get your home ready for the next season, American Home Shield, one of the nation's leading providers of home warranty services, offers some tips to help you maintain your heating unit and plumbing system to ensure they're ready before the temperatures drop: 

To prepare the heating system:
• Have your system professionally cleaned and inspected.
• Move any furniture that has been placed over floor vents away to clear the air flow.
• To ensure efficient operation, check your system's air filters and clean or change them regularly.
• It's always important to check out the manufacturer's maintenance recommendations for your specific unit. This information is typically available online and in your owner's guide.
• Have a test run. Don't wait until it's cold outside to turn on your heat. Turn it on now and let it run for at least a half-hour, so you can listen for any unusual noises and make sure it is working properly. 

To prepare the plumbing system:
• Insulate pipes prone to freezing, such as those near an outside wall; those in unheated areas of your home; or any exposed plumbing such as outside faucets.
• Keep your water meter box covered with its lid to prevent the meter from freezing during cold periods.
• Be sure you know where your master valve is located so you can quickly turn your home's water off if a line does break. In most homes, this valve will be located near the water heater, near the clothes washer, or where the water service line enters your home.
• Wrap outdoor or crawl space pipes with electric heat tape or insulation to prevent freezing. 

"Plumbing and heating systems are like any other machinery; they require some basic maintenance to keep them functioning properly," says Dave Quandt, Senior VP of Field Services for American Home Shield. 

"Unfortunately, if regular maintenance doesn't take place and a system or appliance fails, it's usually at the time of need and you're left with a crisis which can require a quick and more expensive decision." 

To learn more, visit www.ahs.com.
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Word of the Day

August 2, 2011 4:59 pm

Deed. Written document that when executed and delivered conveys title to real property.
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Question of the Day

August 2, 2011 4:59 pm

Q: What are the pros and cons of owning a townhouse?

A: On the plus side, exterior maintenance and repairs are minimal; there are no neighbors above or below the home like in an apartment; and because the homes are attached, they may offer a greater sense of security.

As for the disadvantages, if there is a homeowner’s association, buyers will have to pay a homeowner’s fee. There is also less privacy than with a detached single-family home. And there are limits on how you can make exterior changes to the home.
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Gracefully Aging in Place

August 1, 2011 6:59 pm

Up in the great northwest from Oregon to Idaho, I see REALTORS® focusing on aging in place. In today’s segment on the subject, we first go to Betty Jung, a Real Estate Broker in Portland who posted the top 10 things NOT to do when decorating small spaces like an in-law apartment or small residential home for aging in place.

A few of those mistakes are:
• Leaving your walls white: White walls won’t technically make your space larger and they lack personality.
• Using small-scale accessories: Large lamps, artwork, candles, vases, and accessories will create the appearance of a larger space with more height.
• Using short shelving and cabinetry: Using full-scale shelves and cabinets that go all of the way up to the ceiling will visually draw the eye upward, making the ceiling seem higher, and your space feel larger.
• Not lighting your space effectively makes it look smaller, and if you can’t see an area in your room, it’s as if it’s not there! Capitalizing on natural light, while also bringing in artificial light is imperative. Use light to highlight architectural details and artwork.

Meanwhile, over in Boise, Ed Byington is telling his clients about a great guide to plan for aging in place published by the Mature Market Institute (MMI) at MetLife. According to that publication, the first step in planning an aging in place space is evaluating the home itself.

Is the home set up to meet your needs or do you need to make changes? A physical therapist can often help evaluate the setting based on your care needs.

Once you identify areas that need to be addressed you can evaluate possible solutions. In some cases you can consider restructuring your living environment. For instance, if the bedrooms are upstairs and you cannot use the stairs, you may be able to convert a den or another room on the first level into a bedroom.

You can also consider a stair glide to get you from one level to another if converting another room is not possible. And if you cannot navigate stairs and they are the only access into the house, you may need to put in a ramp so you can get in and out.

You may also have to widen doorways or restructure your bathroom to allow you to navigate and safely use the toilet and tub or shower. Certainly there is a lot to consider, although the benefits of aging in place for those who can manage it are many.

To review the full Mature Market Institute report on aging in place, click here.
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Homeowners Can Be Held ‘At Fault’ When Hiring Unlicensed Contractors for Remodeling

August 1, 2011 6:59 pm

With an increase in home remodeling, the California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors (CALPASC) is urging homeowners to think twice before hiring contractors who may be members of the underground or semi-underground economies for remodeling projects.

California law holds that a "significant residential remodel," defined as projects including demolition and rebuilding a significant portion of the house, and new construction fall under Cal/OSHA safety regulations. As such, the homeowner is treated as an employer and required to furnish a safe place of employment. Like other employers, homeowners hiring an unlicensed independent contractor, who may hire subcontractors, will be held responsible for the workers' safety (see California Labor Code Section 2750.5), and an injured worker can bring a lawsuit against a homeowner and use evidence of the homeowner's violation of the Cal/OSHA regulations to show the homeowner is at fault.

This is in contrast to "domestic household services," such as home maintenance, both inside and outside of the house, which are exempt from Cal/OSHA regulations as are projects where homeowners are doing the work themselves. 

CALPASC is all too familiar with the negative impact of the underground and semi-underground economies, where unlicensed contractors and subcontractors thrive, and is sending a warning flare to homeowners who often are unaware of the risks associated with remodeling projects and hiring unlicensed contractors.

According to CALPASC Chief Operating Officer Cees Molenaar, "Homeowners who are remodeling their homes often are in the dark about this requirement. They assume the contractors they hire are licensed professionals and carry the necessary insurance to abide by Cal/OSHA regulations. Unfortunately, today's growing underground and semi-underground economies create opportunities for contractors and subcontractors to take advantage of homeowners."

The underground and semi-underground economies consist of contractors who refuse to comply with state laws and regulations and conduct illegal business by hiring individuals without proper certifications, not training employees, under reporting payroll, not obtaining workers' compensation insurance or paying compensation premiums and more.

"In 2010, we implemented the LEVEL Program to work closely with state agencies in cracking down on contractors who intentionally cheat California out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and take advantage of consumers," says Molenaar. "There have been some successes in cracking down on those who 'skirt the law,' but we need homeowners to be a part of the solution."

Homeowners often are unaware of the consequences of hiring unlicensed contractors and assume homeowners' policies cover unlicensed contractors, which is not the case. Besides the obvious lack of professional ethics and not abiding by California's legal standards, unlicensed contractors often generate inferior work products and services and subject homeowners to financial exposure if an injury occurs.

In a recent press release issued by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB), consumers were urged to consider the following before hiring someone to work on their home:
• Hire only licensed contractors, and ask to see their license and a photo ID to verify their identity.
• Don't pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment. There is an exception for about two dozen licensees who carry special bonds to protect consumers.
• Don't pay in cash, and don't let payments get ahead of the work.
• Get at least three bids, check references and get a written contract.

For more information, visit www.calpasc.org.  
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8 Money-Saving Tips for Back-to-School Shopping

August 1, 2011 6:59 pm

Summer is winding down and anticipation for a new school year is building. Back to school season means shopping for new clothes, school supplies, computers, textbooks and dorm room basics. The market research firm Morpace reported in 2010 households with school-age children spent an average of $404 on back to school items. To make the most of those dollars, shopping experts at DealTaker.com have put together these 8 tips:

1. Wherever possible, look for bargains from sites that post deals and discounts.
2. Stick to the school district's lists of required supplies, and avoid the fancy stuff. Light-up erasers, pencils with feathers, and binders that play music are a distraction for teachers and students.
3. Some teachers send home a list of supplies for specific courses such as musical instruments, art kits, graphing calculators and sports equipment, so look for these items online where you can find deals for 50%, 60% and even 70% off of retail prices.
4. Start by gathering pencils, paper, scissors and other items that are still in good condition and sitting around the house. Also, clean-out the closets and hand down clothing to younger siblings, but be sure to mix in fun new outfits too so they don't feel left out.
5. Shop for clothing and supplies during a state sponsored tax-free shopping day. Find a list of states offering a 2011 back to school tax holiday.
6. Look for bargains on name brands when quality counts. Getting a great deal on a cheap backpack isn't so great when the zipper breaks in October. Name brand crayons, color pencils, markers, binders and dry erase supplies all tend to last longer,
7. Buy in bulk at online stores to save money this year and next, but be sure to send just the items needed to school saving the rest for future semesters.
8. Once all supplies are purchased, organize and label them with each child's name. This reduces the need to purchase additional school supplies later in the year.

For more information, visit http://www.dealtaker.com.
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Top 5 Tips for Summer Entertaining

August 1, 2011 6:59 pm

Summer is in full swing and so is the season for entertaining. This summer, try trading in your burgers and hot dogs for a little more glam, while remaining under budget.

Check out these tips from celebrity style and entertaining expert Robert Verdi, in partnership with Ecco Domini, to create tips for throwing the perfect fashionable fete.

1. Bottle Up the Excitement: Grab guests' attention, and evoke beachtime nostalgia, with a unique message in a bottle invitation. Use a clear glass bottle and fill it with a little bit of sand. Then roll up your invite and insert it with a string attached for easy access. For a truly personal touch, hand-deliver it to each guest!

2. Go Tribal: Tribal inspirations are making a mark on this season's attire. It's easy to bring this trend to life at home by introducing native elements into your décor such as hand-carved wooden candlesticks or animal print rugs. Make the most of your budget by picking up some tribal printed material at your local fabric store and draping it over your table. This versatile piece not only adds instant summer style to your room but can later serve as a stylish sarong making you a fashion hit at the beach.

3. Stay Cool: Creating your own style statement often means putting a new twist on traditional wardrobe items. You can apply the same concept to entertaining by using your favorite vase or pitcher (glass or ceramic are perfect) as a non-traditional wine cooler. Simply fill the container of your choice with ice and place the wine bottle inside.

4. Dine Under the Stars: Make the most of your outdoor space this season by transforming your rooftop or backyard into an outdoor cafe. A mix of citronella candles and colorful tea lights will keep the pests away and help set the mood for an intimate evening affair. For an added fashionable touch, try draping a vibrant pashmina over each chair- this adds a burst of color to your space and gives guests a way to keep warm if the night gets chilly. Finally, set all of your foods on large trays ahead of time for an easy and quick way to serve guests without making multiple trips to the kitchen.

5. International Tastes: True fashionistas take their style cues from the fashion capitals of the world. Why not do the same when it comes to your party menu? Trade in the typical barbecue burgers and hotdogs for gourmet treats with international flair. For example, create a buffet of easy-to-eat Italian treats such as caprese salad skewers with mozzarella and summer ripe tomatoes, prosciutto-wrapped melon balls or olive tapenade crostinis.
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