Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
June 1, 2011 8:27 pm
RISMEDIA, June 2, 2011—As those living near the Gulf of Mexico and along the Eastern Seaboard prepare for another Atlantic Hurricane season, which began June 1 and runs through November 30, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is reminding small businesses, homeowners and renters nationwide to write down their emergency preparedness plan before disaster hits. Regardless of where you live, it's a good idea to be ready for any kind of crisis.
“Every threat, from wind storms, floods and wildfires, to power outages and computer system failures, reminds us to be proactive when it comes to building strategies to survive a disaster and recover quickly,” says SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills. “The catastrophic events of the last few years demonstrate the need for preparedness at the individual level, to diminish the risk to life and property.”
Disaster preparedness for homes and businesses should include:
- A solid emergency response plan. Find evacuation routes from your home or business and establish meeting places. Make sure everyone understands the plan beforehand. Keep emergency phone numbers handy. Business owners should designate a contact person to communicate with other employees, customers and vendors. Ask an out-of-state friend or family member to be your “post-disaster” point of contact—a person to call to provide information on your safety and whereabouts.
- Adequate insurance. Disaster preparedness begins with having adequate insurance coverage—at least enough to rebuild your home or business. Homeowners and business owners should review their policies to see what is not covered. Businesses should consider “business interruption insurance,” which helps cover operating costs during the post-disaster shutdown period. Flood insurance is essential. To find out more about the National Flood Insurance Program, visit www.floodsmart.gov.
- Making copies of important records. It's a good idea to back up vital records and information saved on computer hard drives, and store those items at a distant offsite location. Computer data should be backed up routinely. Copies of important documents and CDs should be kept in fire-proof safe deposit boxes.
- A “Disaster Survival Kit.” The kit should include a flashlight, a portable radio, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, non-perishable packaged and canned food, bottled water, a basic tool kit, plastic bags, cash, and a disposable camera to take pictures of the property damage after the storm.
For more preparedness tips for businesses, homeowners and renters, visit www.sba.gov/disasterassistance.
June 1, 2011 8:27 pm
RISMEDIA, June 2, 2011--U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan has announced Green Refinance Plus, a program between HUD's Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Fannie Mae to allow owners of existing affordable rental housing properties to refinance into new mortgages that include funding for energy- and water-saving upgrades, along with other needed property renovations.
Under the program, FHA and Fannie Mae will share the risk on loans to refinance existing rent-restricted projects while permitting owners to borrow additional funds to make energy-saving improvements to their properties.
Donovan and Fannie Mae's Executive Vice President for Multifamily Business Ken Bacon unveiled the program at a senior housing development in the San Francisco Bay Area where HUD is investing in energy-saving green retrofits.
"All across the country, owners of affordable housing properties are looking for a way to refinance their mortgages and to make energy improvements and other needed renovations at the same time," says Donovan. "This program kills two birds with one stone—it preserves our affordable rental stock and it helps finance upgrades that will save energy and money over the long haul. We must make the smart investments in a more energy independent economy. These investments will strengthen our economy, create the new industries and new jobs of the future and reduce our dependence on an ever fluctuating oil market."
Bacon adds, "Green Refinance Plus supports Fannie Mae's ongoing commitment to creating a more sustainable rental housing market that is affordable to low- and moderate-income families. This program will provide more renters with renovated apartments in which to live, allow building owners to better manage their energy costs, and help communities by reducing the environmental footprint of our rental properties. Leveraging existing technology and expertise to bring proven energy and cost savings to rental housing is a win for everyone."
Approximately every 10-15 years, owners of existing multifamily affordable properties typically refinance their mortgages. In older apartment buildings, however, owners are hard-pressed to find additional financing to maintain or improve the physical condition of their properties, including making energy-efficient upgrades. Beginning next month, Fannie Mae and its participating lenders will begin accepting applications to refinance owners' debt as well as improve the energy efficiency of their properties.
Green Refinance Plus is intended to refinance the expiring mortgages of Low Income Housing Tax Credit and other affordable projects and to lower annual operating costs by reducing energy consumption. Fannie Mae and HUD anticipate approximately $100 million in initial refinance volume with an average loan amount of $3.5 to $5 million. FHA will insure up to an additional 4-5% of the loan amount, or an average of approximately $150,000 to $250,000 per loan, to provide additional loan funds to pay for property improvements that save energy and water costs for owners and tenants, such as energy efficient windows and ENERGY STAR appliances, as well as other needed property renovations.
Property owners will be able to select the energy-efficiency upgrades that make the most economic sense for their properties. Borrowers will obtain a "Green Physical Needs Assessment" completed by a qualified provider. This assessment identifies property improvements that both reduce energy and operating costs and will help borrowers make rehabilitation choices that will give them the greatest energy savings for their investment.
Green Refinance Plus is an enhancement of the Fannie Mae/FHA Risk-Share program, begun in the 1990s. It will provide funding for the refinance, preservation and energy-efficient retrofits of older affordable multifamily housing properties, including those that are currently in Fannie Mae's or FHA's portfolios. This program allows for lower debt service coverage and higher loan-to-value ratios, to generate extra loan proceeds for property rehab and energy-efficient retrofits.
June 1, 2011 8:27 pm
RISMEDIA, June 2, 2011—The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that it is offering $2.5 million in grants to improve and develop methods and knowledge for detecting and controlling lead-based paint and other housing-related health and safety hazards. This funding will help protect young children as well as other vulnerable populations.
“The grants awarded under these two programs will allow states, counties and cities who are on the front lines to further protect families from the hazards of lead-based paint and other housing related hazards,” says Jon Gant, director of the Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. “We have made significant progress in eliminating lead-based paint but haven’t reached that finish line yet. We must ensure that communities are given the tools necessary to produce safe and healthy older housing for children and vulnerable populations.”
HUD is making grants available through the following programs:
1. Lead Technical Studies Grant Program- $500,000: These grants will further previous research grants that have provided health and housing professionals with knowledge on how to reduce the number of lead poisoned children. They are critical for achieving the goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning as a major public health problem. Application due date is June 30, 2011.
2. Healthy Homes Technical Studies Grant Program- $2 million: These grants will help develop and improve low-cost methods for identifying and reducing housing-related hazards. They may also improve our understanding of the relationship between residential exposures experienced by children or other vulnerable populations and illness or injury. Application due date is June 30, 2011.
Two awards will be made for the Lead Technical Studies program ranging from $200,000 to $300,000 each. Three to five awards will also be made for the Healthy Homes Technical Studies program ranging from $300,000 to $650,000 each.
For more information, visit www.Grants.gov.
May 31, 2011 8:27 pm
RISMEDIA, June 1, 2011—According to DIY shopping and support website Trades Supermarket, the improved spring weather means more than giving the lawn a trim for homeowners. It signifies the time to undertake necessary repair and maintenance checks, not only to make sure the house and garden look good and are safe for summer, but also to save money on major improvements in the long run.
The strong winds over the winter months may have impacted the safety of areas in and around the home, notes Tommy Walsh, member of the Trades Supermarket team. These impacted areas can include roofs, guttering and fences. Walsh suggests that homeowners ensure wooden fence posts are still intact and embedded properly in the ground, and consider treating them by applying a new coat of preservative. Checking guttering, fascias and roof tiles for damage and movement, as well as clearing out any leaves and debris that have built-up over the winter, are must-do jobs. Walsh adds that ladder work is always a two person job, and that people who are not confident should consult professionals.
According to Walsh, checking for the onset of rot in wood is another important safety check, especially on sheds and decking, which could cause serious injury to people if they collapsed. With decking, Walsh suggests looking at the condition of the posts and making sure the planking is nailed or screwed firmly in place. Shed owners should not only inspect the wood but also make sure the roofing felt has not shrunk or ripped—replacing it if necessary to prevent leaks—therefore avoiding further damage to the wood or the shed’s contents. If decking or sheds are due for a fresh coat of a preservative treatment, Walsh advises making sure the timber is washed down using a stiff brush and lightly sanding before application.
“Doing maintenance checks around the home are jobs that are often put off until ‘next weekend,’ but many of these checks are for safety reasons,” says Walsh. “You don’t want to risk any accidents or end up spending more money having to replace things, like your fascias or decking, in the long run.”
For more information, visit www.tradessupermarket.com.
May 31, 2011 8:27 pm
RISMEDIA, June 1, 2011-- With temperatures on the rise, air conditioners across the nation are going to kick in full blast, putting a strain on the power grid and also our electricity bills. Now is a great time to keep a few tips in mind that will help you go green this summer while still staying cool.
Clear the surroundings. One of the easiest ways to make your air conditioning unit operate more efficiently is to ensure it is clear from any immediate surroundings. If the air flow pathway is kept clear, air has an easier time getting in and the A/C unit doesn't have to work as hard. The same rule applies when using a window unit; always be conscious of clutter or debris that may inhibit air flow. When the air conditioner doesn't have to work as hard, you consume less energy.
Monitor your electricity bill. When you start using your A/C, use it sparingly to prevent a surprising bill. Be proactive and consider how much energy you're using to keep your home cool. Once you've seen the way your bill reacts to the first month of air conditioning usage, you can gauge how much or how little you should be running it during the coming months.
Clean those filters. Controlling outside clutter is great, but it won't do any good unless you keep your filters clean. Take out your air filters and give them a good cleaning every few weeks, and replace them mid-season.
Raise it up a few degrees. A great recommendation for saving energy is raising your thermostat a few degrees and keeping it a bit warmer than you may desire. Begin by turning the temperature up a bit before you go to sleep. For those with a time-enabled thermostat, you can even set it to get warmer in the middle of the night so you can fall asleep comfortably and still wake up feeling refreshed.
With these four tips, you can go green while still staying cool. Your wallet will thank you.
May 31, 2011 8:27 pm
RISMEDIA, June 1, 2011-- With Memorial Day behind us, that means summer is right around the corner. In the real estate industry, everyone knows summer is one of the busiest times to move. It's the most convenient time for families, but what happens when the kids are adamant about not moving?
Planning a move can be hard, but planning a move with children can be even more difficult. When it comes to moving, most children aren't happy abandoning their childhood homes. Author Irene Agapion-Palamaris claims that children can be happy about moving if you prepare them in the right ways.
In her new children's book, Marilyn is Moving, Agapion-Palamaris tells the story of a spunky little girl named Marilyn and her emotions when she finds out she is moving. After her attempts at stopping the move proved to be unfruitful, she becomes involved in the selection process of her new home. It's then when she realizes moving can be fun.
With tips learned as a real estate agent, Agapion-Palamaris tells the story to help children understand the importance of a move. Here are a few tips to help make a move easier on children:
1. Be upbeat about the move from the start. Emotions are contagious. If your child notices your excitement for the move, he or she will feed off of your positive energy and will likely come around quicker.
2. Hold a family meeting to discuss the details and timeline. If your children feel that they are an important part of the process, they will be more open to conversation regarding the move. Allow them to help make simple decisions which will boost their feelings of self-worth.
3. Show children the new house (if possible). Show your child what his or her new room will look like and offer suggestions for what they can do with their new room. This will increase excitement.
4. Start making plans for the designs of their rooms. What child doesn't like a totally awesome paint job? Let the child choose a color or pattern for the walls. With the correct supervision, children will feel like it really is "their room."
5. Host a moving party with all your children's neighborhood friends. Reinforce that it is not a "goodbye," but a "see you soon." Make plans with other children and their parents for a visit to see the new home. By keeping in touch with his or her friends, your child will adjust to the move more quickly.
May 27, 2011 2:27 pm
RISMEDIA, May 31, 2011--As temperatures heat up across the country, you can make sure this is the best summer ever with the following 10 tips, time-savers, water-care ideas, and maintenance and safety suggestions for backyard living.
1 – Safety first. Follow a few common sense rules in the backyard and around the pool. Keep each child within arm's length at all times, designate an adult as water watcher, ensure that the pool's fence is always locked, and install both gate and pool alarms to alert you to unsupervised pool use.
2 – Use plants to dress up the landscape. A bit of backyard greenery can be both pretty and functional. Use shrubs for form, foliage-heavy plants for color, and sturdy perennials for reliability. Plenty of pretty perennials, such as coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, require little tending and offer cheery blooms throughout the growing season.
3 – Add years to backyard furnishings. If mildew spots appear on outside chairs and tables, wash the fabric according to manufacturer directions and dry in the sun. Then mix together equal parts lemon juice and salt; spread on the stain. Dry in the sun again and rinse thoroughly.
4 – Organize backyard toys and tools. Two simple storage rules for keeping backyard clutter to a minimum: air out wet things by storing them in big mesh bags or open-weave crates; toss all the little bits – sunscreen, dive toys, etc. – into a clear plastic shoe organizer hung on the fence where everyone can easily find them.
5 – Stay healthy with a water workout. According to the Centers for Disease Control, just 21 minutes a day of exercising in a pool can decrease your risk of chronic disease. If swimming laps doesn't excite you, there are other great ways to get moving. Try kickboxing using water as the resistance and enjoy the benefits of strength, endurance and balance. Depending on intensity, a typical water exercise session of 40 to 50 minutes can burn up to 600 calories.
6 – Maintain a perfect pool. A pool filled with cloudy water equals no fun. Fortunately there's a pool-care strategy – Circulation, Filtration, Cleaning, Testing and Chemistry – that equals a stellar pool season. Maintaining a pool, its equipment and beautiful water requires proper water treatment. Make sure to complete the proper water testing and upkeep a regular care schedule for your pool.
7 – Convert an ordinary salt pool into a backyard oasis. Try using a special blend of minerals, pool equipment protectors, water enhancers and pH adjusters that all work to make silky, relaxing water.
8 – Soak in a sensational spa. A backyard spa can offer the same soothing effects as a professional spa with a few easy, affordable ideas. Place flameless LED candles around the edge of the spa. Take tunes into the spa with a floating speaker that connects wirelessly to an MP3 player. Add a soothing scent to the water with single-use aromatherapy packs.
9 – Make a smaller footprint on the Earth. In order to be more environmentally friendly, make sure to always keep pool chemicals properly balanced. Overworked filters and motors waste energy and hike utility bills.
10 – Help pets swim safely. It may seem like fun to let the dog paddle around, but before you let a pooch jump in, make sure he can get out without damaging the pool or hurting himself. Also check with the vet - swimming in a pool should be appropriate for the breed. Finally, make additional time to monitor the pool's water. A typical dog can be the equivalent of about 50 swimmers in the pool, meaning extra vigilance is needed to maintain the chemical balance.
For more information on creating and maintaining a backyard haven, visit www.bioguard.com.
May 27, 2011 2:27 pm
RISMEDIA, May 31, 2011-- The “Do It Proper with Copper” video series is back with its second installment of DIY architectural and plumbing how-to videos.
The short, instructional videos have been produced by the Copper Development Association (CDA) and are designed to illustrate exactly how one can use the metal in plumbing, architecture and building and construction projects.
CDA project managers Larry Peters, who specializes in architectural applications, and Harold Moret, who specializes in plumbing applications, once again provide their expertise in proper copper application techniques.
The new series expands on the first how-to videos, which launched in 2010 and cover building techniques such as: vertical lap seams, flat seams and standing seams for architectural copper systems, and bending and flaring, structural adhesives, and a continuation of brazing techniques used in plumbing applications.
Each video explains which tools are needed for the application, while giving a step-by-step tutorial that is easy to understand for anyone from the average do-it-yourselfer to the seasoned professional. The videos break down the different copper methods, and make sure no small details are overlooked. For example, the standing seam video not only discusses how the seam is constructed, but also how cleats should be used to attach the sheet copper to the substrate of the roof or wall.
"We received good feedback from the first series, both from individuals using copper on their own projects and from instructors using the videos as a teaching tool. So we created this second series to expand to other joining systems and applications," says Andy Kireta Jr., vice president of building construction for CDA. "The videos are great for anybody looking for guidance on the right way to install copper systems, and they are packaged in a way that makes specific information easy to access and understand. In just a few short minutes you can gain confidence that your skills in installing the system will allow copper to provide the lifetime of service that you expect.”
The Do it Proper with Copper video series is available for free download here: http://www.copper.org/applications/doityourself/homepage.html. The series can also be viewed on the CDA’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/coppervideo?ob=5.
May 27, 2011 2:27 pm
RISMEDIA, May 31, 2011—Reforms to America's housing finance market must ensure a reliable source of affordable mortgage lending for creditworthy consumers. That's according to REALTORS® and other industry insiders who examined the federal government's future role in the secondary mortgage market at the "Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac: Obama Options and Beyond" session during the National Association of REALTORS® 2011 Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.
Panelist Steve Brown, 2011 NAR first vice-president nominee, outlines NAR's position for reforming the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs). Brown states that reform is required, taxpayers must be protected from losses, and the federal government must continue to play a role in the secondary mortgage market to ensure a steady flow of mortgage liquidity in all markets under all economic conditions.
"As the leading advocate for homeowners, NAR is concerned that eliminating the GSEs without a viable replacement is not a reasonable option and will severely restrict mortgage capital and result in higher fees and costs for qualified borrowers," says Brown. "Reform of the secondary mortgage market needs to be comprehensive and undertaken methodically."
James Parrot, senior advisor for housing at the National Economic Council in Washington, D.C., overviewed the administration's recommendations for reforming the GSEs in the wake of the financial crisis, which included varying levels of government backing. He notes the primary objective of the proposals is twofold—first, to lay out an immediate near-term path for reform, with steps that could be taken the next few years to reduce taxpayer risk and move the housing market to more stable footing, and second, to frame the discussion regarding the government's long-term role in housing finance.
"The government's large presence in housing finance is unhealthy and needs to be scaled back; however, the steps we take over next few years to reduce the government's role and increase private capital will have a tremendous impact on the housing market and economy as well as the availability and affordability of mortgages," says Parrot. "The objective isn't to turn away from housing, but to make the housing finance market stronger so that families and their most important asset are better protected."
Panelist Susan Wachter, a professor at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, agrees that private capital needs to return to the housing finance market, but that most likely won't happen until the market has stabilized.
"There needs to be more accountability and transparency in the secondary mortgage market so that private investors can best assess their risk and safely get back into the market," she says.
Mark Calabria, director of Financial Regulation Studies at the Cato Institute, argues for a very limited government role in the secondary mortgage market, saying that the private capital market has the funds and capacity to absorb Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's market share. He says that increased government support in the past few decades has only slightly increased America's homeownership rate and that rates in other countries are higher despite their government's limited involvement. Despite his opposing viewpoint to the level of involvement, Calabria acknowledges that some government backstop was essential in the future, since the housing and finance markets are sensitive to booms and busts.
David Katkov, executive vice president and chief business officer at The PMI Group, counters that it would be naïve to move to a purely private market because it's been successful in other countries, adding that the U.S.'s housing finance system dwarfs that of other countries and is far more complex.
Ann Grochala, vice president at the Independent Community Bankers of America, also shares concerns for small lenders and community bankers in a purely private market, where competition from large lenders would be great.
For more information, please visit www.realtor.org.
May 26, 2011 8:27 pm
RISMEDIA, May 27, 2011-- Batten down the hatches—plus the windows, doors and roof. Hurricane Season 2011 starts on June 1 and—based on expert predictions—it could be a whopper.
At Colorado State University, forecasters believe the number of named storms will reach 16, and they predict there’s a 72% chance that the entire United States coastline will be affected by at least one major hurricane landfall in 2011. The Weather Research Center in Houston has forecast at least 10 named storms in 2011 with six of them projected to intensify into hurricanes. And, they’re predicting that coastal areas in west Florida, Louisiana and Alabama have a 90% chance that they’ll be in the line.
“Homeowners all along the East Coast and throughout the Gulf of Mexico should prepare for potentially severe weather this year,” says Jill F. Hasling, president of the Weather Research Center. “Now is the time to evaluate your home’s exterior and determine how well it is prepared to withstand hurricane-force winds, torrential rain and flying debris.”
Hasling speaks from experience. In 2008, Hurricane Ike reached into the Houston area doing significant damage to structures near the Weather Research Center. “We had impact-resistant windows installed on our facility more than five years ago and they made all the difference in keeping our building safe during that storm,” says Hasling. “We strongly advise people to make it a priority during Hurricane Preparedness Week, which is May 22 to 28, to completely evaluate the four most vulnerable areas of the home—windows, entry doors, the roof and the garage door. If any of these are compromised, the wind and rain that enters the home can cause extensive damage.”
According to home improvement expert Tom Kraeutler, selecting the right door for a home is also a critical decision. “Hurricane-force weather conditions can be extreme for hundreds of miles inland, so it’s important that homeowners seriously consider upgrading with impact-resistant building products,” says Kraeutler, host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Money Pit. “Fiberglass entry doors maximize the seal between the door and the frame to help keep out the damaging effects of wind and rain. This system is engineered to work together and meets building codes across the country, including in severe weather zones. One of the great things about this type of energy-efficient door construction is that it can be requested on both entry doors and patio doors.”
A home’s roof is another vulnerable area during high winds and driving rain. Roofs should be examined yearly to determine if there are missing shingles, curling or splitting shingles, lifting shingles or loss of granules. Both straight line winds and pressurized winds can cause different damage—from uplifting the shingles off the roof to pushing intense wind-driven rain and flying debris onto the roof.
“Once air pressure moves through a hole in a roof and into the home during a hurricane, it can literally blow out the walls and windows of the house,” says Kraeutler. “It’s vital for homeowners in potential hurricane areas to have well-installed, solid roofs overhead to protect their homes and prized possessions.”
“Homeowners should make sure they have proper bracing, such as galvanized metal hurricane straps, to connect the roof to the walls of the home,” says Kraeutler. “This can help prevent uplift during hurricane-force winds. For a second step, consider impact-resistant polymer roofing tiles that have been formulated and tested to withstand hurricane strength winds and severe impact. That’s a winning combination for a roof.”
Kraeutler stresses that homeowners should always follow the directions of local authorities regarding evacuations and emergency procedures during severe weather. “More than likely in extreme weather situations, you’ll have to evacuate,” says Kraeutler. “But when you invest in impact-resistant building products that are always ‘on guard’ you can leave knowing that your family’s home and cherished possessions are secure. That can bring incredible peace-of-mind during a highly stressful time.”