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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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Tom's Blog

Question of the Day

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

Q: How are individual tax bills figured?

A: Unlike the income tax and the sales tax you pay, the property tax is not based on how much money you earn or how much you spend. It is based solely on how much the property you own is worth.

The real property tax is an ad valorem tax, or a tax based on the value of property.

Ideally, the owners of property of equal value pay the same amount of property taxes, and the owners of more valuable property pay more in taxes than the owners of less valuable property. The tax is calculated using a variety of formulas and is based on a property’s assessed value – its full market value or a percentage thereof – and the tax rate of the taxing jurisdiction, minus any property tax exemptions, such as those offered for the elderly or veterans.
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Word of the Day

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

Cloud on title. Defect in the title that impairs the owner’s ability to market the property. This might be a lien, claim, judgment, or encumbrance.
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Consumers Turned Their Eyes toward Trucks and SUVs in June

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

With the steady decline in gas prices throughout the month of June, American consumers are showing signs that they want to shift their focus back to trucks and SUVs. AutoTrader.com's June Trend Engine report—which provides analysis of site traffic as it relates to consumer shopping behavior—shows that trucks and SUVs have gained consumer interest since May and that interest in compact cars is starting to subside.

Though gas prices are still far from where they were at the beginning of the year, consumers have begun to feel some relief at the pump, which is likely a contributing factor to the rising interest in larger vehicles and the declining interest in more fuel-efficient models, according to AutoTrader.com analysts.

Consumers shopping on the site started considering more fuel-efficient models when gas prices hit the $3.50 mark, and now that prices are heading back toward that threshold, they appear ready to get back to their favorites.

Consumer Interest in New, Used and CPO Trucks Resumed in June
Consumer interest in big trucks is already on the upswing, especially in the new vehicle segment, with the Dodge Ram 1500, Ford F-250 and the Chevrolet Silverado 2500 all moving up on the list of most-searched vehicles in June. The largest of the full-size trucks showed the most significant gains, as the new Ford F-250 moved up five spots month-over-month to No. 13, and the new Chevrolet Silverado 2500 moved up six spots month-over-month to No. 18. Demand for both of these vehicles also showed in the increase in asking price, as the F-250's price increased 8.2% and the Silverado 2500's price increased 10.6% year-over-year.

Trucks also made a big comeback on the list of most-searched used vehicles, with the used Ford F-150 reclaiming the No. 1 spot, the used Chevrolet Silverado 1500 moving up one spot to No. 3, the used Ford F-250 moving up two spots to No. 6, the used Dodge Ram 2500 moving up one spot to No. 17, the used Toyota Tundra moving up two spots to No. 19. The biggest mover on the list of most-searched used vehicles in the truck segment, however, was the used Chevrolet Silverado 2500, which leapt four spots to land at No. 13. Average asking prices for the majority of used trucks dropped slightly (less than 5%) year-over-year. One notable exception was the Toyota Tacoma, which gained 8.6% in average asking price year-over-year.

On the certified pre-owned (CPO) front, the CPO Ford F-150 moved up two spots month-over-month to land at No. 10 with an increase in average asking price of 6.1%, and the CPO Toyota Tundra moved up one spot to No. 4 with an average asking price increase of 5.5%.

New, Used and CPO SUVs Gained Consumer Interest
Trucks weren't the only segment on the rise in June: SUVs across the most-searched lists for new, used and CPO vehicles also garnered notable interest from consumers. On the new list, both SUVs moved up in rank month-over-month, with the new Jeep Wrangler moving up two spots to No. 4 and the new Ford Explorer moving up one spot to No. 11. Both of these vehicles also showed a year-over-year increase in asking price, with the new Ford Explorer showing the biggest increase of 10.6%. The list of most-searched used cars showed a similar story for SUVs, with the used Jeep Wrangler moving up two spots to No. 5, the used Chevrolet Tahoe moving up four spots to No. 10 and the used Jeep Grand Cherokee moving up one spot to No. 18. With the exception of the used Tahoe, the other two SUVs showed an increase in average asking price year-over-year.

There were six SUVs on the list of most-searched CPO vehicles. Of these, four held their position on the list month-over-month, one moved down one spot and the rest moved up. The CPO Jeep Wrangler showed the biggest month-over-month jump, moving up five spots to No. 20; the CPO Chevrolet Tahoe moved up two spots to No. 9. As the only luxury SUV on the list, the Acura MDX show a slight decrease in average asking price year-over-year, but the rest of the SUVs all posted increases in this arena. The Toyota Highlander had the biggest average asking price increase of 11%, with the Toyota 4 Runner coming in second for price increases, with a 9% year-over-year jump.

Interest in Used and CPO Cars Declines; Prices on the Rise for these Vehicles
With the precipitous rise in gas prices earlier in the year, consumers held out as long as possible before turning their eyes toward the small car segments.

However, the steady decline in gas prices through June gave used car shoppers just enough confidence to begin diverting their attention from these cars. 

Compact cars, as well as small luxury cars, on the list of most-searched used cars all declined in their position on the list month-over-month; however, the year-over-year average asking prices for those vehicles rose. The used BMW 3-Series dropped one spot month-over-month, landing at No. 2; the used Honda Civic dropped three spots to No. 8; the used Audi A4 dropped three spots to No. 16; and the Volkswagen Jetta dropped four spots to No. 20. The luxury used smaller cars on the list showed year-over-year increases in their average asking prices, with the BMW 3-Series increasing 4.6% and the Audi A4 increasing 1.2%, the non-luxury compacts posted the biggest increases in average asking price: the Honda Civic's price rose 10.9% year-over-year, and the Volkswagen Jetta's price rose 10.3% year-over-year.

Interest in smaller CPO cars also showed slight declines; of the four smaller cars on the list, two remained steady month-over-month while two dropped in their position on the list. The CPO BMW 3-Series and the CPO Honda Civic did not move on the list, but the CPO Audi A4 dropped one spot month-over-month to land at No. 5, and the Volkswagen Jetta dropped three spots to land at No. 12. Similar to the trend seen on the list of most-searched used cars, average asking price increases for the more affordable smaller CPO cars outpaced those in the luxury segment. The asking price for the Honda Civic rose 10% and the asking price for the Volkswagen Jetta rose 7.9% year-over-year.

The increases in average asking prices for used and CPO cars are consistent with the industry-wide trend of these cars commanding higher prices in the face of limited availability of quality pre-owned vehicles.

For more information, please visit www.AutoTrader.com.
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Weed Scientists Say Edible Weeds Can Be a Tasty Revenge for Homeowners

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

If you’re growing weary of the never-ending battle against weeds, there may be one unique way to exact revenge. Scientists with the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) suggest that if you take some prudent safety measures, you can serve up some of your worst enemies at your next dinner party.

“Weeds can be a real pest in your lawn or favorite flower garden,” says Emilie Regnier, Ph.D., a weed ecologist at Ohio State University and a member of WSSA. “But many of them are edible. That means you can turn them into a tasty side dish or use them as a key ingredient in a nutritious gourmet salad. Remember, though, that like most other vegetables, weeds are most tasty when young and succulent. So time your ‘harvest’ accordingly.”

According to weed scientists, examples of common edible weeds include:
• Borage (Borago officinalis). This annual weed is a prolific seeder that can quickly take over a garden. It features blue, star-shaped flowers that bloom in midsummer and bristly leaves and stems. Both the flowers and leaves have a crisp, cucumber-like flavor that make them a favored ingredient in salads or soups.
• Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense). A native of the Mediterranean (not Canada as its name implies), Canada thistle is considered a noxious weed in communities across much of the U.S. and Canada. It is a perennial that spreads via seed and underground rhizomes. Young Canada thistle stalks can be peeled and eaten raw, and the nutritious young leaves are edible as well. Try them as a sandwich garnish or boiled as a side dish.
• Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Though this perennial weed may not be welcome in your lawn or garden, its tuberous roots and green leaves are a coveted salad ingredient and can be cooked like spinach. Some adventuresome cooks like to batter and fry bright-yellow dandelion blossoms. Pluck only young blooms, though, to avoid a bitter flavor.
• Dewberry or Bramble (Rubus flagellaris). This member of the blackberry family typically grows upright on a thorny stem, with five-petal blooms and clusters of edible black fruit. When left uncontrolled, dewberry can grow into dense thickets that will overrun fields and pastureland. But dewberry berries are quite tasty and can be eaten fresh or used in jams, jellies and pies.
• Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album). This broadleaf weed is among the most common summer annuals – found in fields and pastures, orchards and gardens and even along roadsides. Both the leaves of the plant and its clusters of tiny green flowers have a spinach-like flavor. Young shoots with leaves are recommended if you choose to eat this weed raw.
• Purslane (Portulaca oleracea). A prolific annual weed, purslane can grow almost anywhere and produces seeds that can remain viable in soil for decades. The branching rubbery stems and fleshy oval leaves grow close to the ground. Though the entire plant is edible, most aficionados prefer the leaves and tender stem tips from fresh young plants—using them like spinach in salads or to dress up a sandwich. Purslane also can be boiled, steamed or stir-fried, but it becomes slimy if overcooked.
• Wild mustards (species in the Brassicaceae family). Most farmers will tell you they aren’t a fan of weeds that belong to the wild mustard family. They spread rapidly, crowd out crops and can become a fire hazard when their greenery dies back during the heat of the summer. But admirers love their spicy leaves —whether cooked or raw. 

Edible Weed Safety Tips
Before you take even a nibble of any weed, though, make certain you follow these two mandatory safety tips:
1. Know what you’re gathering. Many highly toxic or even deadly weeds can masquerade as a harmless cousin. One example: Poison hemlock looks a lot like parsley, and people have died by adding it to a salad by mistake. Consult detailed field guides and/or contact your county extension agent to avoid placing yourself and your family in danger.
2. Avoid weeds that might have been sprayed with pesticides. The pesticides farmers use on fruits and vegetables undergo an extensive battery of tests to determine safe application rates and the minimum interval between treatment and harvest. Each pesticide is approved for very specific uses, though, and edible weeds aren’t among them.

“Your safety is paramount, so make certain you’ve accurately identified each weed to determine if it is edible before it makes its way to your table,” says Lee Van Wychen, Ph.D., science policy director of the Weed Science Society of America. “In many cases there is no margin for error.”

For more information, visit http://www.wssa.net.
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Recycle Your Plastic Furniture

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

In our last column, I examined wireless outdoor speakers—one of the hottest home deck and patio accessories this summer. In this segment, well check out another one of the newest and greenest trends: sturdy and inviting patio furniture made from recycled materials.

The folks at sustainablog.org tout the newest lines of environmentally-friendly patio furniture, which are made from recycled or earth friendly materials. Remember, recycled eco outdoor patio furniture saves energy and resources because it uses less virgin materials.

Of course, recycling also saves ‘waste’ products from ending up as landfill and polluting the environment, so it is a good idea for more than one reason. And consumers should always opt for recycled plastic patio furniture with high post-consumer recycled content.

The benefits of recycled plastic furniture are endless.

 

First, it is extremely light weight compared to wood or metal patio furniture. This allows you to move your outdoor furniture from location to location with ease and comfort.

This is great for those who like to rearrange their patio furniture a lot. The fact that it is durable and long-lasting is one of the reasons that recycled plastic patio tables are so popular today.

Why spend tons of money on something that will only last you a few years? Plastic patio furniture can be used and abused for years and years.

The folks at parknpool.com of Lexington, VA, agree that high density recycled outdoor furniture is built tough—it can withstand the constant wind, rain, sun, and salt air of any outdoor location, even a beachfront resort. 

It’s great for poolside as well, because it is virtually unaffected by chlorinated (and salt) water. Plus, stainless steel hardware means no worries about rust. And careless guests won't raise your hackles—this deck furniture is scratch and gouge resistant.

Some people would say the best benefit of purchasing plastic furniture is that you won't have to stain or refinish it. And the only maintenance required for this product is a simple spray of the hose when it gets a little dirty.

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5 Ways to Build a Successful Business Plan

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

When times are tough, the successful keep moving…and that’s exactly how you should be thinking now that we've reached a new year. Whether large or small, just you or a staff, you should be thinking about how you are going to run your business—and yes, as a real estate professional, your job is a business—and create a plan for success.

Here are five tips from score.org on how to start writing a successful business plan:

1. Write a business plan with a complete financial and marketing plan.

2. Your marketing strategy should be built around your strengths, your competitor's weaknesses and your customers' desires.

3. Test the reality of your business—know why it will work and how you will make it work. Think your business through step by step.

4. Allow at least two hours every week for thinking and planning. Do not allow anything to interfere with this time. You run the business. Don't let it run you.

5. Establish an annual operating plan. Review it and update it monthly with appropriate employees (if applicable).

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Gas Prices Still Have Strong Influence on Consumers' Shopping Behavior

July 7, 2011 4:27 pm

More consumers are taking steps to compensate for rising gas prices, as nearly 80% of consumers say they will alter their purchase behavior, according to recent research conducted by market-research firm TNS. 

Burdened by strong gas prices and a sluggish economy, consumers are looking at ways to cut their spending, starting with their monthly grocery bill. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed say they are trimming down and removing items from their "typical" grocery list to save money. "Shoppers are careful and watchful of their money and given the overall level of uncertainty about the economy, it's not a surprise to us to see consumers reign in their spending on groceries," says Dan Boehm, Senior Vice President at TNS. 

But, it's not simply a matter of removing items from a given grocery list. Consumers are also paying close attention to what they're buying. According to the survey, nearly one-third of consumers (30%) are more likely to purchase private label brands than national brands. "For their money, consumers are increasingly seeing an equal or greater value of purchasing more private-label brands," says Boehm. "This is a great opportunity for marketers to communicate why their brands are superior. They should continue to make being visible in the store a priority." 

As they pay more at the pump and consolidate their shopping lists, consumers are making fewer trips and often choosing to shop at discount stores (32%) over traditional retail outlets. "Even as gas prices have receded a little from their peak, our research shows consumers are adjusting their grocery shopping patterns to manage a more uncertain conservative purchase environment," says Boehm "More than ever, grocery retailers need to clearly articulate the value proposition they give their shoppers as shoppers make fewer trips per week, buy less and look for discounts." 

For more information, please visit www.tns-us.com.
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Bulking Up More Difficult for Older Adults than Young

July 7, 2011 4:27 pm

While muscle strength can be maintained by exercising just one day per week, a report released this month by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) says that older adults may need more frequent exercise than their young counterparts to maintain muscle size. 

The report, titled “Exercise Dosing to Retain Resistance Training Adaptations in Young and Older Adults,” was published this month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, ACSM’s official scientific journal. This two-phase exercise trial, led by Marcas Bamman, Ph.D., sought to determine the appropriate exercise dose to maintain muscle mass, muscle size and strength in older (between ages 60 and 75) and younger (between ages 20 and 35) adults. 

“All adults should include progressive resistance exercise in their weekly regimen, but there will always be times, such as extended travel or a family illness, when exercise is difficult to sustain,” says Bamman, who is a researcher with the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Stopping exercise altogether—called detraining—leads to significant strength reductions after just a few weeks. Our team sought to determine how little exercise a person needs to maintain strength.” 

Seventy adults—39 in the younger age group and 31 in the older age group—completed the first phase of the trial, which lasted 16 weeks. In phase one, participants performed three sets of three resistance training exercises—leg press, knee extensions and squats—three times a week. Fifty-six participants completed phase two of the trial, which lasted 32 weeks. In phase two, participants were randomly sorted into three reduced training groups. The first group stopped training altogether. The second group reduced training to one-third, decreasing exercise days from three to one. The third group reduced training to one-ninth, both decreasing exercise days from three to one and also reducing training sets from three to one. 

Results indicate that improvements in strength can be retained for an extended period after training ceases. While once-a-week exercise is sufficient to maintain strength, there are age-specific differences in the required dose to maintain muscle size. Within the younger group, there was a dose-response such that one-third exercise volume continued to increase muscle size, one-ninth exercise volume maintained size and detraining caused atrophy. In the older group, no group maintained muscle size. Older adults likely require more frequent training to maintain muscle mass gained from resistance exercise. 

“Our data are the first to suggest that older adults require greater weekly maintenance dosing than younger individuals to maintain resistance training-induced increases in muscle mass,” says Bamman. “We are not advocating that people only train one day a week indefinitely, but we do believe such a program can be effective during temporary periods when it is difficult to maintain a consistent, intensive exercise regimen several days per week.” 

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 40,000 international, national and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine. 

For more information, please visit ACSM online at http://www.acsm.org.
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Smartphones and Tablets Replacing Alarm Clocks, GPS Devices & Digital Cameras, According to Mobile Survey

July 7, 2011 4:27 pm

Smartphones and tablets, loaded with features and apps, are replacing other technology devices for many consumers, according to a recent mobile survey conducted by Prosper Mobile Insights™ among smartphone and tablet users on their devices. A majority of smartphone/tablet users say their mobile device has replaced a traditional alarm clock (61.1%) and a GPS device (52.3%). Four in 10 smartphone/tablet users say their mobile device has replaced a digital camera (44.3%), a personal planner (41.6%) and a landline phone (40.3%). More than a third no longer need a separate MP3 player (37.6%) or a video camera (34.2%). 

Replaced by Smartphone or Tablet:
Alarm Clock: 61.1%
GPS: 52.3%
Digital camera: 44.3%
Personal planner: 41.6%
Landline phone: 40.3%
MP3 Player: 37.6%
Video Camera: 34.2%
Newspaper: 28.2%
Radio: 27.5%
Desktop/Laptop Computer: 24.2%
Gaming device: 20.8%
Books: 20.1%
Internet service at home: 19.5%
DVD Player: 14.1% 

Source: Prosper Mobile Insights™ Mobile Survey, June-11 

It is no surprise that smartphones and tablets can easily take the place of other devices or media outlets, but can they replace a wallet? 57.7% of smartphone and tablet owners say they would be somewhat or very comfortable using their device to make a purchase in a store. 22.8% are unsure while 19.5% would be not at all or not very comfortable using this new “swipe technology.” 

Despite innovative new gadgets, thousands of apps and a growing number of uses for new mobile devices, consumers still say reliable service is key. A vast majority (77.9%) of smartphone/tablet users say the best service is more important than the newest technology (22.1%). 

For more information, please visit http://www.surveysampling.com.
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Allergens, Bed Bugs Await College Students Reporting to Campus, Experts Warn

July 7, 2011 4:27 pm

Students who regard their dorm room bed as a comfortable, carefree refuge where they rest and unwind may want to reevaluate. Information from the institutional bedding industry indicates that most colleges and universities replace mattresses in on-campus housing facilities on a four-to-five year schedule. Those familiar with what happens to a mattress after years of typical dorm use say allergens associated with dust particles, dust mites, mold and fungus can be an issue in even the most well-maintained campus residence facilities. Added to those worries are bedbug infestations and other sanitary concerns associated with used bedding. 

According to information from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), "Dorm life breeds mold, dust mites, bacteria and viruses. It is important to keep your room clean and free of these triggers. Remember to encase bedding with dust mite proof covers and wash sheets and blankets weekly in hot water, to keep your room free of dust mites and other airborne particles," advises an AAAAI fact sheet for students with allergies. 

“When it comes to allergens, microbial presence and even ordinary dust particles, a regular mattress cover and sheets cannot provide a protective barrier between the mattress and the person sleeping in that bed night after night,” says Traci Broughton, product manager for Precision Fabrics Group in Greensboro, NC. “Preventing contact with allergens and other foreign material requires specially manufactured bedding products.” 

Broughton says mattress and pillow encasements made from Pristine® fabric provide a solution. “Pristine® fabric is made from tightly woven yarns that make the material impenetrable to allergens and other particles, plus they’re finished with an anti-microbial treatment,” she explains. “They’re soft and breathable, and can be washed as frequently as ordinary bedding without breaking down or losing their protective properties.” 

On the bed bug front, "Word of infestations occurs almost weekly (during the school year), as the pests have found their way into residence facilities across the U.S.," according to Wayne Walker, the senior pest control technician for the department of Housing and Residence Education at the University of Florida, who provides advice on preventing or minimizing bed bug infestations to members of the Association of College and University Housing Officers. "Due to the severity of the problem and the frequency of student travelers, bedbug outbreaks have increased in residence facilities and likely will continue to occur." 

Broughton says mattress and pillow encasements are an important tool in protecting students from bed bugs that have taken up residence in their dorm mattress. "Bud bugs cannot bite though or escape from an encasement made from Pristine® fabric," she explains. "If the bugs or their eggs are already in a mattress, Pristine fabric create a barrier between them and the student." 

Products made with Pristine® fabrics are available from a number of online specialty catalogs. For a list of suppliers, visit http://www.pristinefabrics.com.
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