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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

Join the EPA for National Fix-a-Leak Week

March 16, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 16, 2011--For homeowners looking for small DIY projects, now is the perfect time. This week marks National Fix-a-Leak Week, sponsored by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). According to the EPA, the average home wastes 10,000 gallons of water each year--enough to fill a backyard swimming pool. In fact, the amount of water leaked from U.S. homes could exceed more than 1 trillion gallons per year, says EPA experts. That's equivalent to the annual water usage of Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami combined!

Fixing household water leaks can save homeowners more than 10% on their water bills and most leaks are easily correctable. Check the following when on the hunt for leaks:

Water meters are a great indication of whether or not a leak exists in the home. Check your meter and then refrain from using water for a couple of hours. If the meter advances afterwards, you know you have a leak somewhere and can begin searching accordingly.

Toilets are common water wasters. A running toilet may waste up to 200 gallons a day. To easily test out your toilet, add a few drops of food coloring into the tank. If after 15 minutes the color shows up, you have a leak. Change the flapper inside the toilet to quickly fix the problem.

Faucets may also be subject to dripping. Tighten loose fittings and replace old washers to take care of those pesky leaks. Faucet leaks are easily discernable and even easier to nip in the bud.

Be sure to check bathroom showerheads as well. If suspect of leaking, be sure that the showerhead is securely tightened to the pipe stem. If need be, use pipe tape to further secure it. If the job seems more complicated than an easy connection fix, it's best to contact a professional plumber.

Don't forget about the outdoors. Check garden hose spigots for any possible water flow problem. Replacing the nylon or rubber hose washer is a great place to start. For in-ground irrigation systems, contact a professional. If issues are detected and go unfixed, it could lead to messy freezing and frost issues.

Fixing leaks around the home is a win-win; it's good for the environment and saves you money on your water bill. Fix-a-Leak Week marks the perfect time to examine your home for water problems.

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Reports

Tags: News

Tax Time Less Taxing for Homeowners

March 16, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 16, 2011--With a little more than one month before income taxes are due, many of the nation's 75 million homeowners may be appreciating the value of homeownership just a bit more as they take advantage of the tax benefits of homeownership.

"Owning a home offers myriad benefits throughout the year, but some of the financial advantages of homeownership are most apparent at tax time," said NAR President Ron Phipps. "As many of today's hard-working American families are feeling a financial squeeze, the tax benefits that can come from owning a home can be a welcome relief."

A number of tax deductions and credits are still available for homeowners; these include deductions--with specific limits--for mortgage interest and capital gains on home sales, and credits for certain energy-efficient home improvements. Even with these benefits, homeowners pay 80-90% of all U.S. federal income taxes.

"It's been suggested that many of today's tax incentives for homeownership primarily benefit wealthy individuals, but that's simply not true," said Phipps. "As today's public debate continues about what homeownership means for families, communities, and the nation's economy, there's no question that for many, owning a home is still the best way to begin building wealth."

Ninety-one percent of homeowners who claim the mortgage interest deduction earn less than $200,000 a year, and the ability to deduct the interest paid on a mortgage can mean significant savings at tax time. For example, a family who bought a home in 2010 with a $200,000, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, assuming an interest rate of 4.5%, could save nearly $3,500 in federal taxes when they file this year.

"REALTORS see the very real positive impact of homeownership every day with our clients," said Phipps. "Recent proposals to reduce or eliminate the mortgage interest deduction and remove government support of the housing finance market could have disastrous consequences for the economy, not to mention making it harder or nearly impossible for millions of families to own their own homes. We believe America must continue to invest in homeownership, for the future of our families and our nation."

For homeowner tax season tips, visit www.HouseLogic.com. HouseLogic is a free source of information from NAR that helps homeowners maintain and enhance the value of their homes and engage in issues that affect their local communities. For other information about NAR, visit www.realtor.org.

Tags: News

REALTORS Advocate Reform, Long-term Extension of National Flood Insurance Program

March 15, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 15, 2011--Congress needs to strengthen and reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program for the long term to prevent undermining the fragile real estate market recovery, the National Association of REALTORS said in testimony today before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity.

The NFIP authority is set to expire on September 30 for the 10th time in two years. The program ensures access to affordable flood insurance for more than 5.6 million home and business owners in 21,000 communities nationwide.

"As the leading advocate for housing issues, NAR strongly supports reauthorizing the NFIP for a minimum of five years, and before the program is set to expire later this year, ending the current stopgap approach that has already led to nine extensions and five lapses of program authority since 2008," said REALTOR Terry Sullivan, who testified on NAR's behalf regarding draft legislative proposals to reform the NFIP.

The month-to-month approach has exacerbated uncertainty in many recovering real estate markets that depend on the NFIP to protect them against flood losses. The lapse in June 2010 alone resulted in the delay or cancellation of 47,000 home sales, according to NAR survey data.

In written testimony, Sullivan also tackled a common misconception that the NFIP's current structure benefits coastal states at the expense of noncoastal states. In fact, five of the 12 states with the fewest high flood-loss years actually have coastlines, and analysis shows that overall coastal states are paying in more than they are taking out. Those states perceived to have the highest risks are actually paying their fair share and contributing more than other states, he said.

In addition to a longer term reauthorization, NAR also supports strengthening the long-term viability of the NFIP by expanding coverage to include business interruption and loss of residential use, which could help encourage additional participation; indexing coverage limits, which have not been updated for inflation since 1994; and ensuring that the owners of repetitive loss properties pay insurance rates that reflect the full risk to the property. These reforms will help increase funds for the NFIP, help property owners recover from flood losses, and decrease future federal assistance when underinsured properties suffer flood losses, said Sullivan.

He added that while NAR supports reforms to the NFIP, any efforts to move the NFIP toward privatization will be strongly opposed.

"The NFIP was created and continues to address the private market's inability to guarantee access to affordable flood insurance in many real estate markets, and without this program the only way for owners to rebuild after a devastating flood is for the federal government to provide post-disaster rebuilding assistance using taxpayer dollars. Federal support was and continues to be justified today by saving taxpayers property and money," Sullivan said.

Tags: News

FHFA Extends Refinance Program by One Year

March 15, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 15, 2011--Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco has announced an extension of the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), a refinancing program administered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to June 30, 2012.

The program was set to expire on June 30 of this year. In addition, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will make the following adjustments to their programs: Freddie Mac will exempt HARP loans from their recently announced price adjustments and Fannie Mae will conform their eligibility date to May 2009.

The program expands access to refinancing for qualified individuals and families whose homes have lost value. HARP has grown over the past year. Through 2010, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac purchased or guaranteed more than 6.8 million refinanced mortgages. Of this total, 621,803 were HARP refinances with LTVs between 80% and 125%. This is up from 190,180 in 2009, when HARP began.

For more information on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refinance activity, see FHFA's Fourth Quarter 2010 Foreclosure Prevention & Refinance Report at: http://www.fhfa.gov/webfiles/19864/4QForeclosurePrevRelease30311.pdf. Additionally, homeowners can visit www.MakingHomeAffordable.gov for more information on the program.

Tags: News

Unhealthy Homes Pose Real Danger to Millions of Families

March 15, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 15, 2011--Millions of U.S. families face health and safety hazards like mold, lead, pest infestation and the physical deterioration of their homes. These problems are particularly common among some of the nation's most vulnerable populations: children, seniors, the disabled and low-income families.

To address these widespread issues, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will host more than 3,000 national health and safety experts in Denver from June 20-23, 2011 at the National Healthy Homes Conference (NHHC). Under the theme, Leading the Nation to Healthy Homes, Families and Communities, this is one of the most comprehensive forums ever held on the issue.

"It's time that we move from talk to action," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "Our goal is to ensure that every home is designed, built, rehabbed and maintained in a manner that protects the health and safety of American families. This conference encourages the exchange of critical information and presents innovative approaches and solutions to reduce home-related hazards."

The Conference will feature more than 150 educational sessions and workshops, allowing officials from the public health, housing, safety and environmental communities to collaborate and share ideas. Presentations will be made by representatives of more than 200 organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, American Lung Association, National Center for Healthy Housing, AARP, National Association of Homebuilders and the Harvard School of Public Health.

"Building a Healthy Neighborhood" Volunteer Event Kicks-Off Conference Activities June 18-19

One of the highlights of NHHC takes place prior to the official start, when HUD and Rebuilding Together rehabilitate 25 homes in a Denver neighborhood on June 18 and 19. The event, called Building a Healthy Neighborhood, will bring together more than 300 volunteers to make the homes of local families safer and healthier. Volunteers may register at www.healthyhomesconference.org.

About the 2011 National Healthy Homes Conference

NHHC is one of the housing industry's most comprehensive, progressive and educational forums on the issue of healthy, safe and sustainable homes. The conference is a federally-sponsored event, bringing together a wide range of health, housing and environmental professionals to work toward making housing healthy, safe and environmentally sustainable.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.

Tags: News

Don't Become a Victim of Home Improvement Fraud

March 14, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 14, 2011-- This winter's heavy snowfall and subsequent thawing and refreezing each evening caused thousands of dollars in damages to homes across the region. Repairs will be needed for leaky roofs, downed gutters and soggy drywall before the rainy spring season, making now a great time for homeowners to become knowledgeable on best practices to avoid home improvement fraud.

National Consumer Protection Week aims to arm consumers with an arsenal of resources and emphasizes the importance of protecting privacy, managing money and debt, avoiding identity theft, and avoiding fraud and scams. The following tips can help homeowners select a home improvement contractor and navigate an industry sometimes fraught with dishonest providers and unethical practices. Homeowners looking to hire a knowledgeable and trustworthy home improvement contractor should know the following:

  • Don't pay in full up front. Only make a final payment when the work is completed.
  • A written contract is your right as a consumer. Always obtain a written proposal, including a cost estimate.
  • Seek proof of your contractor's license and insurance. You are well within your rights as a consumer to insist on seeing proof that your potential contractor is legally operational.
  • Obtain recommendations. Use established and well-recommended contractors. Consider how long the company has been in business and how many service and installation technicians they have at their disposal.
  • An award-winning company is more trustworthy. A company that has won industry awards is confident enough to be in the spotlight. If the company welcomes the scrutiny that comes with an award selection process, it is likely they have upstanding business practices.
  • Research your contractor with a consumer-friendly third party. Check out the company with your city or county, or opt for a contractor who is affiliated with the Better Business Bureau or local Chambers. Researching the company online is also a cost effective way to gather background information.
  • Consider the company's hiring policies. Do they drug test and background check employees before hiring them - and continue random tests?
  • Plan for emergencies. It is important to know that the company is available nights and weekends with customer service representatives and technicians to handle any service calls or emergencies.

For more information including additional resources about avoiding home improvement fraud, visit NCPW.gov or PowerHRG.com.

Tags: News

Five Quick Tips for Spring Lawn Care

March 14, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 14, 2011--As spring nears and green creeps back into the landscape, lawns across the nation will need a little extra help to recover from the harsh winter months and return to lush, healthy life. Using a few easy tips can help homeowners across the nation see their yards spring back to life.

"Spring lawns require extra care following chilly winter temperatures and dormant growth," said John Buechner, Horticulture expert for Lawn Doctors. "It's also a critical time to take steps to ensure a beautiful summer lawn. Fertilization, weed and pest control combined with proper mowing will stop problems before they start and keep your lawn looking its best."

Here are a few spring lawn care tips designed to promote a healthy yard well into the summer:

Fertilization: Spring is a crucial time to fertilize because it replenishes the food reserves your yard draws from while dormant in the winter, and fuels grass' rapid growth phase. A top recommendation in lawn care is to utilize a balanced fertilizer consisting of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is best, with 30% of the nitrogen slow release. Don't over-fertilize your lawn no more than one pound of nitrogen should be applied per 1,000 square feet. A thick, healthy lawn also helps prevent weeds.

Weed control: Apply a pre-emergent weed killer on lawns to prevent grassy weeds from germinating. Spring broadleaf weeds like dandelions, clovers and plantains, are best prevented by maintaining a proper mowing height and fertilization. After a mild winter, annual weeds that germinate in the fall, like henbit and chickweed, will be more visible and require higher levels of broadleaf weed control through herbicides.

Pest control/Disease repair: Severe winters may increase the incidence of winter diseases such as snow mold and Bermuda dead spot. Proper cultural care is important in helping your lawn recover from stress related winter diseases. Properly timed fertilizer application and mowing at the recommended height for your grass type are two items that will aid in the recovery of your lawn.

Mowing: Contrary to popular belief, setting your mower at a very low height can actually increase weeds by exposing the soil surface to sunlight and removing stored nutrients in leaf blades. Cool weather grasses, such as bluegrass, ryegrass and fescues, should maintain a height of 2.5 to 3.5 inches. Warm season grasses, like bermuda, zoysia, St. Augustine and centipede, should be kept at 1.5 to 2.5 inches tall.

Spring is also the perfect time to plant summer annuals and vegetables, but hold off on seeding until the fall when fewer weeds, more moisture and cooler temperatures allow seedlings to develop.

For more spring lawn care tips, visit www.lawndoctor.com.

Tags: News

Extensive Flooding in U.S. Shows Need for Flood Insurance

March 14, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 14, 2011--Fast melting snow, severe storms and heavy extended rainfall can all contribute to extensive flooding during the spring months, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), which is encouraging U.S. residents to learn about their risk during Flood Safety Awareness Week (March 14-18).

Midwestern states that had record amounts of snowfall are particularly vulnerable to flooding from overwhelmed rivers, lakes and streams. Homeowners and renters who reside near bodies of water should purchase a flood insurance policy if they haven't already done so, warned the I.I.I.

"Floods are the nation's leading natural disaster-anywhere it rains, it can flood," said Loretta Worters, vice president with the I.I.I.

While the optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy includes coverage for flood damage, it is excluded under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies.

Flood coverage for homeowners and renters is available in the form of a separate policy from the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and from a few private insurers. There is typically a 30-day waiting period-from date of purchase-before a new NFIP policy goes into effect, so it's important to act now, before the waters rise. Consumers can get more information by visiting the NFIP's FloodSmart website. The site includes numerous interactive resources (all of which are shareable), including:

  • Cost of Flooding tool estimates the cost of damage from various levels of flooding
  • Flood Risk Scenarios
  • Video Library home and business owners who have experienced flooding
  • One Step Flood Risk Profile tool accessed from the home page, enables consumers to estimate their risk and flood insurance premiums and find agents who serve their communities
  • FEMA's Are You Ready for Flooding? widget
  • Link to FEMA's Flood Safety Awareness Week site additional information about the dangers of flooding and how U.S. residents can protect themselves and their properties

Just a few inches of water from a flood can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Over the past 10 years, the average flood claim has amounted to over $33,000, the NFIP reported.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) notes that a large swath of the U.S. is at risk of moderate to major flooding this spring, from northeastern Montana through western Wisconsin following the Mississippi River south to St. Louis. On February 24, the National Weather Service released an initial spring flood outlook for this high risk region and is expected to release a national spring flood outlook on March 17.

For the third consecutive year, forecasters predict moderate to major flooding along the Red River of the North, which forms the state line between eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota and includes the Souris River Basin and the Devils Lake and Stump Lake drainages in North Dakota. If the current forecast holds, the main stem Mississippi River is at risk for moderate to major flooding from its headwaters in St. Paul, Minnesota, all the way to St. Louis.

When it comes to floods and the damage they can do, many people are complacent. A 2010 I.I.I. poll found that 16% of Americans thought their homeowners policy covered damage from flooding during a hurricane. Moreover, the proportion of people in the South-among the areas most severely affected by hurricane related flooding-who thought homeowners insurance covers flooding from a hurricane was only 10% higher, a mere 26%.

The NFIP provides coverage to its policyholders for up to $250,000 for the structure of a home and $100,000 for personal possessions. Private flood insurance is available for those who need additional insurance protection, known as excess coverage, over and above the basic policy or for people whose communities do not participate in the NFIP. Some insurers have introduced special policies for high-value properties; these policies may cover homes in non-coastal areas and/or provide enhancements to traditional flood coverage.

The average cost of a flood policy for homeowners is $570 annually but can be as low as $129 a year in low risk areas. For renters in a moderate to low risk area, rates start from $49 annually for contents-only coverage.

"Your home is your most valuable asset and flood insurance is the best and most affordable way to protect that investment," said Worters.

For more information, visit http://www.iii.org and www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart.

Tags: News

Using Faux Wood, Brick and Stone to Increase Your Home's Resale Value

March 11, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 11, 2011--It's always a great time to add value to your home with a little sweat equity. With easy-to-install faux stone panels, you can boost your home's resale value quickly and affordably. The high-quality beams, panels and siding are made from high-tech, durable, synthetic materials in strikingly lifelike detail; they look like the actual wood, brick and stone from which they're molded.

Installation and handling are both quite simple. One person can lift a 20-foot faux wood beam, and two can attach it to the ceiling. Anyone can cut fake wood, brick or stone panels to size with a wood saw and cover a wall with them. Following step-by-step instructions, the average remodeling hobbyist can build a brick fireplace in the family room or construct a pair of stone columns in the yard for a fraction of the cost and time.

Here are a few starter ideas for building the resale value of a home using faux products:

Surround a Tub or Spa with Stone Panels

Bring the comfort and elegance of a spa to your home. Impress future home buyers with a fun, atmospheric room. Fake stone panels make it easy to accomplish, and they're available in a wide variety of designs and shades to create a custom look.

Add Instant Class with Corbels

Corbels can turn an ordinary flat soffit into a classy feature that upgrades the entire look of a home's exterior. They also add a signature interior design touch inside, as part of a fireplace mantel, shelving, cabinetry and more. Wood corbels come in lots of different shapes and sizes to fit the necessary style and scale, ranging from subtle 4-inch chunks to prominent features two or three feet long. Corbels are available pre-finished in a variety of wood tones, or you can finish them to match your decor. Compared with real wood, these corbels are lighter, less expensive and easier to install--and they don't rot or attract insects.

Wood Beams Make the Bedroom Ceiling Worth Looking At

Homeowners often add faux ceiling beams to give a rustic barnlike feel to a room, but beams can just as easily change the mood in other ways. For example, smooth painted beams can give the room a light, restful, storybook cottage atmosphere.

Of course, you can do any of these projects even if you're not planning to sell your home anytime soon, and get all the advantages of enjoying them yourself. Nothing's more valuable than that.

For more information, visit www.FauxWoodBeams.com.

Tags: News

70% of Movers Each Year Are Renters; Two-Thirds Don't Research Fair Rental Price, According to Survey

March 11, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 11, 2011--Most people who move each year (70%) are renters, and, according to a recent survey by Ipsos, nearly two-thirds (61%) of current renters who were polled do not research fair rent prices before signing their lease. To help this, Zillow has launched "Rent Zestimates," a tool that can be used as a starting point for determining a home or apartment's estimated monthly rent price.

Rent Zestimate estimated rent prices offer a powerful new way for consumers to research prices for specific homes or apartments. In combination with additional market information on rentals, Rent Zestimates can help renters determine a fair rental price and negotiate before signing their lease.

Rent Zestimates are also a valuable tool for landlords. Information is especially hard to come by for "accidental landlords," who represent one-fourth of respondents who are homeowners intending to move in the next three years and who are considering renting out their home, according to the survey. Most respondents (69%) said they will research similar rentals in their area to determine a price, but Rent Zestimates offer a unique data point for landlords to decide how much to charge.

Consumers can find Rent Zestimates on map searches and individual home detail pages on Zillow.com and all Zillow mobile applications, including iPhone, iPad and Android apps.

"Buyers and renters are not exclusive categories many people are considering both options when shopping for a new home. Similarly, many would-be sellers in today's housing market are considering whether to become landlords rather than sell at a loss," said Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff. "We created Rent Zestimates to empower people with information and data to make the right real estate decision for them."

Zillow launched rental listings in late 2009, and today has nearly 300,000 apartments and homes listed for rent. Consumers can search Zillow's rental listings by number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, and monthly payment an attractive feature for the 27% of Americans who plan to move in the next three years and who will simultaneously search for both homes for rent and for sale.

For more information, visit www.zillow.com.

Tags: News




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