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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

Existing-Home Sales Rise Again in January

February 24, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 24, 2011--The uptrend in existing-home sales continues, with January sales rising for the third consecutive month with a pace that is now above year-ago levels, according to the National Association of REALTORS. Existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 2.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million in January from a downwardly revised 5.22 million in December, and are 5.3% above the 5.09 million level in January 2010. This is the first time in seven months that sales activity was higher than a year earlier. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the improvement is good but could be better. "The uptrend in home sales is consistent with improvements in the economy and jobs, which are helping boost consumer confidence," Yun said. "The extremely favorable housing affordability conditions are a big factor, but buyers have been constrained by unnecessarily tight credit. As a result, there are abnormally high levels of all-cash purchases, along with rising investor activity." A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows first-time buyers purchased 29% of homes in January, down from 33% in December and 40% in January 2010 when an extended tax credit was in place. Investors accounted for 23% of purchases in January, up from 20% in December and 17% in January 2010; the balance of sales were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales rose to 32% in January from 29% in December and 26% in January 2010. "Increases in all-cash transactions, the investor market share and distressed home sales all go hand-in-hand. With tight credit standards, it's not surprising to see so much activity where cash is king and investors are taking advantage of conditions to purchase undervalued homes," Yun said. All-cash purchases are at the highest level since NAR started measuring these purchases monthly in October 2008, when they accounted for 15% of the market. The average of all-cash deals was 20% in 2009, rising to 28% last year. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $158,800 in January, down 3.7% from January 2010. Distressed homes edged up to a 37% market share in January from 36% in December; it was 38% in January 2010. NAR President Ron Phipps said the median price is being dampened by unusual market factors. "Unprecedented levels of all-cash purchases, primarily of distressed homes sold at deep discounts, undoubtedly pulls the median price downward," Phipps said. "Given the levels of inventory we see today, we believe that traditional homes in good condition have held their value." Total housing inventory at the end of January fell 5.1% to 3.38 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 7.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from an 8.2-month supply in December. The inventory supply is at the lowest level since December 2009 when there was a 7.3-month supply. According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.76% in January from 4.71% in December; the rate was 5.03% in January 2010. Single-family home sales rose 2.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.69 million in January from 4.58 million in December, and are 4.9% higher than the 4.47 million level in January 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $159,400 in January, down 2.7% from a year ago. Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 4.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 670,000 in January from 640,000 in December, and are 7.9% above the 621,000-unit pace one year ago. The median existing condo price was $154,900 in January, which is 10.2% below January 2010.
Tags: News

6 Ways to Spend Less on Groceries

February 23, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 23, 2011Household bills can get expensive. Between mortgage payments, insurance, home repairs and utilities, many homeowners might need to stretch those paychecks when times get tough. One easy area to save is at the grocery store. Grocery shopping is a large part of the family budget. The average family of four spends nearly $6,000 a year at the supermarket. Does your family need to scale back a bit on grocery spending? Here are six easy tips to help you save money as youre aisle hopping. Make a list before you go using your weekly flyer. If the store has a website, check to see what is on sale and what you think youll need for the week. By having a plan, youll do less perusing and more calculated shopping. Having a list will even save you time, too. Always sign up for the club card. No matter what, always get the stores savings card to guarantee that youll get all of the advertised sale prices. Youll receive extra members-only specials as well. Stores that sell gasoline also award you with points towards gas purchases. These cards are free to get and will save you loads. Know how to pace your purchases. If you time your purchases right, you rarely have to pay full price for things you buy every week. Youll begin to notice how often certain products go on sale, and you can catch your favorite items on sale weeks. By grabbing what you need on Buy-1-Get-1 weeks, youll save immensely over time. Buying store brands can also save. Most supermarkets offer their own brand labels, which cost around 25% less. Almost every product has its own store brand, even frozen veggies, baked goods and cold cutsits not just limited to canned fruit and paper towels anymore. Look for these inexpensive products and be sure to compare prices to the name brands. Always remember your coupons. Whether you clip them from the newspaper, or click and print from the Web, this one is a no-brainer. Be a smart shopper. Stores use all sorts of tactics to get you to spend more. If something is three-for-a-dollar, it usually doesnt mean you have to buy three. Only buy what you need and usually the discount is applied regardless. Also, dont just buy things at eye levelstores often place the more expensive items there. Search high and low to find the good deals. With some smart shopping, you can save your family a great deal of money just by changing your shopping habits. Plenty of bills come in each month. This saved money will be far more useful elsewhere. Source: Consumer Reports
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5 Tips Any Mover Should Know

February 23, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 23, 2011If you are considering a move in the coming months, heed these suggestions to give you the best chance of making your move a positive experience. 1.Dont contract with a moving company until youve done your homework. There are a number of reputable moving companies operating in the United States, but there also are some that are not. You can find a list of certified movers at www.promover.org or check the Better Business Bureaus website (www.bbb.org) for recent reports about any of the moving companies you have under consideration. 2. Understand the coverage options offered by your moving company. Hiring a professional moving company is an investment in conveniencebut it is not a guarantee against damaged or lost possessions. So, before moving, make certain you understand the types of protection each moving company offers. 3.Finish packing before moving day. J.D. Powers research has shown that customers who are still packing on moving day are more than 40% more likely to have items go missing than are their counterparts who finish packing before moving day. 4. Dont put off unpacking. Unpacking promptly following your move will give you sufficient time to file a claim if you need to do so. Nearly one-half (45%) of customers who discover items lost or damaged during their move do not file a claim with their moving company. Many of these customers cite timing or missed deadlines as the reason they could not or did not file a claim. 5. If at all possible, avoid moving during the summer months. Demand for moving company servicesand often, their prices as welltend to spike during the summer months. J.D. Power found that customers reported the lowest levels of satisfaction in June, August, and September. In addition, the percentage of customers indicating they had possessions damaged or lost during their move reaches the highest levels during these peak months. For more information, visit www.jdpower.com.
Tags: News

Tips for Selecting Energy and Budget Friendly Light Bulbs

February 23, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 23, 2011Its a known fact that energy-efficient lighting can save you money. The law requires light bulb manufacturers to provide information to help you choose the most energy-efficient bulb. When headed to purchase your next set of light bulbs, be sure to take the following into consideration: Regular incandescent bulbs. Everyday pear-shaped bulbs with a screw-in base, these bulbs use electricity to heat a filament until it glows white hot, producing light. About 90% of the electricity used by incandescent bulbs is lost as heat. These bulbs typically burn for 750 to 1,000 hoursor about three hours a day for a year. Compact fluorescent bulbs. These bulbs provide as much light as regular incandescent bulbs while using just one-fourth the energy. For example, a 15-watt compact fluorescent bulb gives out the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. Compact fluorescent bulbs last about 10,000 hours10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Incandescent spotlights and floodlights. Known as spotlights or floodlights, these bulbs are used in recessed ceiling fixtures or outdoors. A special coating helps direct and focus the light. They burn for about 2,000 hours. Halogen bulbs. These bulbs contain a small capsule filled with halogen gas, which emits a bright white light. While standard halogen bulbs use less energy and last longer than standard incandescent bulbs, DOE cautions that halogen torchieres, frequently used in floor lamps, generate excessive heat, which can create fire hazards. Halogen torchieres also use significant amounts of energy. When possible, DOE recommends using more efficient compact fluorescent lamp bulbs instead. General service fluorescent bulbs. More energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, general service fluorescent bulbs don't produce heat. Theyre thin, long tubes often used in kitchens, offices, garages, and basements. They last from 10,000 to 20,000 hours10 to 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs. When choosing new bulbs or lighting, it's important to know your options. By being in the know, you can create a lighting plan for your home that will be practical for your lifestyle and budget. Source: FTC
Tags: News

New Fed Rule May Lower Costs for Borrowers

February 22, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 22, 2011--A new Federal Reserve rule is causing some concerns in the mortgage industry, even though it may lead to lower costs for borrowers. Some experts believe the upcoming changes may have the power to do more harm than good. Under the new rule that takes effect April 1, borrowers who get their mortgages through brokers will likely pay less for services, while brokers will be required to offer the lowest possible interest rate and fees that they qualify for. Most banks and other direct lenders, including some mortgage companies that operate like banks, are exempt from the rule. The new Federal Reserve rule, the Loan Originator Compensation amendment to Regulation Z, aims to help prevent borrowers from high-cost or risky loans. Mortgage brokers used to earn more money on a loan the higher the interest rate and points. But the new rule covers how a loan originator is paid, setting a fixed commission and no longer tying the amount to the loan terms. Some in the mortgage industry believe the new rule may make mortgage brokers less competitive against the big banks, as earnings will be the same for large and small jobs. Officials with the National Association of Mortgage Brokers also have expressed concerns, saying the rule may put a lot of independent brokers out of business. Source: The New York Times
Tags: News

Housing Affordability Rises to Highest Level in Two Decades

February 22, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 22, 2011Nationwide housing affordability during the fourth quarter of 2010 rose to its highest level in the 20 years since it has been measured, according to National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) data. The HOI indicated that 73.9% of all new and existing homes sold in the fourth quarter of 2010 were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,400. The record-setting index for the fourth quarter surpassed the previous high of 72.5% set during the first quarter of 2009 and marked the eighth consecutive quarter that the index has been above 70%. Until 2009, the HOI rarely topped 65% and never reached 70%. "Today's report shows that housing affordability at the end of 2010 was at its highest level since we started computing the HOI," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. Indianapolis-Carmel, Ind., was the most affordable major housing market in the country for the second consecutive quarter, after relinquishing for a quarter the top spot it has held for five years. In Indianapolis, 93.5% of all homes sold were affordable to households earning the area's median family income of $68,700. Also ranking near the top of the most affordable major metro housing markets were Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa.; Syracuse, N.Y; Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, Mich.; and Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, Mich. Among smaller housing markets, the most affordable was Elkhart-Goshen, Ind., where 97.0% of homes sold during the fourth quarter of 2010 were affordable to families earning a median income of $58,600. Other smaller housing markets near the top of the index included Lansing-East Lansing, Mich.; Kokomo, Ind.; Mansfield, Ohio; and Bay City, Mich. New York-White Plains-Wayne, N.Y.-N.J., again led the nation as the least affordable major housing market during the fourth quarter of 2010. In New York, more than a fourth25.5%of all homes sold during the quarter were affordable to those earning the area's median income of $65,600. This was the 11th consecutive quarter that the New York metropolitan division has held this position. The other major metro areas near the bottom of the affordability index included San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif.; Honolulu; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif.; and Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif., respectively. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, Calif. was the least affordable of the smaller metro housing markets in the country during the fourth quarter. In Santa Cruz, 45.0% of the homes were affordable to families earning the median income of $84,200. Other small metro areas ranking near the bottom included Ocean City, N.J; San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.; Laredo, Texas; and Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, Calif. For more information, visit www.nahb.org.
Tags: News

Residential Remodeling Activity Rose 18 % Year-Over-Year in December 2010, According to BuildFax Remodeling Index

February 22, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 22, 2011With the economy continuing to exhibit a slow recovery and mortgage rates inching up from historical lows, many Americans have chosen to remodel their current homes rather than purchase a new house or apartment. BuildFax, a leading provider of building permit data recently released the latest findings of its monthly BuildFax Remodeling Index (BFRI), in addition to a comprehensive review of remodeling activity throughout last year. The findings indicate that in December 2010, residential remodeling activity rose 18% year-over-year and for the fourteenth straight month. The BFRI is one of the only sources directly reporting residential remodeling activity across the nation. The monthly information, derived through related building permit activity filed with local building departments across the country, reports trends in remodeling activity for the entire United States, as well as for the four major regions of the country: Northeast, South, Midwest and West. The latest report details remodeling activity through December 2010 and provides month-over-month and year-over-year comparisons for the entire nation and the four regions included in the index. In addition, with the inclusion of the December data, BuildFax has released its 2010 remodeling Year in Review. According to the BFRI 2010 Year in Review, in most of the country, remodeling in 2010 resembled what 2008 might have looked like had the housing market not collapsed. In the Northeast, however, 2010 was the worst year in the history of the BuildFax Remodeling Index. Throughout the countryeven in the lagging Northeastthe last quarter of 2010 shows promise for increased remodeling activity in 2011, said Joe Emison, vice president of research and development at BuildFax. The winter is always the trough of the seasonal remodeling cycle, and December 2010 was better than or equal to December 2009 in every region of the country. On a regional basis, the West and South both saw better-than-average remodeling activity in December, with the South posting a four-year high, and the West posting an index high. The Midwest suffered its usual significant November-to-December decline, and the Northeast continues to lag all other regions while still showing signs of recovery. The BuildFax Remodeling Index for the Northeast was down 4.1 points (5%) month-over-month but up 1.3 points (2%) year-over-year; the South was down 0.6 points (less than 1%) month-over-month but up 9.1 points (12%) year-over-year; the Midwest was down 11.8 points (11%) month-over-month and down 0.1 points (less than 1%) year-over-year; and the West was up 2.9 points (3%) month-over-month and up 11.3 points (12%) year-over-year. For more information, visit www.buildfax.com.
Tags: News

Should You Transfer Credit Cards for Lower Rates?

February 21, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 21, 2011--Whether en route to a better credit score or simply committed to ridding yourself of debt, paying off credit card bills can sometimes be more intimidating than one might expect. Depending on the level of debt, you may have finance charges hindering your path toward a debt-free life. Should you perform a balance transfer in order to receive a lower annual percentage rate (APR)? Ask yourself the following questions before jumping to any quick fixes: How long will my current card take to pay off? Low introductory rates are indeed appealing, but find out how long it would take you to pay off your debt given your current scenario. Try utilizing a minimum payment calculator to help you determine the answer to this question if you only contribute the monthly minimum each pay period. By planning this out, you may find that the payment schedule is reasonable. If the end is in sight, you may want to stick with the terms you have. Can I make a dent in my debt during the introductory period? If you choose to conduct a balance transfer, how much expendable cash will you have available in order to make a dent? Will the 0% interest rate actually help you pay down debts? Examine your monthly expenses and see if a transfer would be worth it for your wallet. Do the balance transfer fees counteract the lower rates? Despite an attractive introductory APR offer, you must be aware of the looming balance transfer fees. Most banks will charge 3-5% of the amount you want to transfer over. If this transfer is a large chunk of change, your fees will add up quickly. Read the small print to find exactly how much the fee will be and do the math. If the fees are too great, you might want to opt out of the balance transfer option. How does the total package look? New cards can have a plethora of fees and costs attached to it. From APRs to balance transfer fees, is the package actually worth the introductory offer? Make sure to look at the big picture to really see what the best option is for you and your debt. If you are ready to accept a new offer, Bankrate offers a Balance Transfer calculator that you can use to determine when you will have your debt completely paid off. For more information, please visit: http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/credit-cards/credit-card-balance-transfer-calculator.aspx. Source: Bankrate
Tags: News

Prevent Further Disaster by Taking a Home Inventory

February 21, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 21, 2011How much do you like your widescreen plasma TV, ultra-fast computer, designer clothes, high-count Egyptian cotton sheets and tweaked out ride-on lawn mower? How would it change your life if you had to downgrade everything you've earned and worked hard for? If the unthinkable happened tomorrow and your home was severely damaged or destroyed in a fire or hurricane, you'd be understandably devastated. Once you got over the initial shock, you'd have to begin the long and difficult task of recovering or replacing everything that you lost. If you don't have a home inventory, the chances are good that you will be doing some major downgrading. To prevent this from happening and to make your life exceptionally easier in lieu of a tragedy, be sure to take a proper home inventory. You have a lot more responsibility than you think you do. The first thing you're going to do is call the insurance company, who is going to ask for a detailed list and description of everything you lost and need to replace. All you need to do is provide the make, model and serial number of your electronics and appliances and substantial proof that your clothes were from Talbot's, your sheets were 600-count and your mower was a high-end John Deere. But most people can't even remember where they bought many of their belongings, never mind the model and serial number. Receipts and appraisals lost in a fire? It's not unheard of to find people digging around in the soggy ashes of their once-home desperately looking for evidence to show insurance adjusters. If you are more proactive now and prepare your home and belongings for the worst, you can arrange to have all of the necessary information that the insurance company will ask for before something terrible happens. You won't remember as much as you think. How big are your grandmother's heirloom pearls? How many are on the string? How long is the strand? What about that pocket watch your great-grandfather brought here when he emigrated from Europe? Can you describe it in detail? When is the last time you really looked at it? If they were stolen, could you describe them to the police? Do you have any pictures? A comprehensive home inventory can help ensure that you have the right amount of insurance coverage, provide proof of ownership to your insurance company, maximize your insurance recovery payments, and improve your chances of recovering irreplaceable treasures if they're stolen. "A complete inventory, including photos, may be one of the most valuable investments for peace of mind anyone can make for themselves and their families," says Dennis Kizziah, acting director for FEMA's Mississippi Transitional Recovery Office, on http://www.FEMA.gov. "If something happens to damage homes and property, an inventory will eliminate the need to piece that information together in the aftermath." A home inventory can document and catalog all your possessions. Home inventory services can also be purchased and tailored to suit your needs and budget. Whether you conduct the inventory yourself or hire an outside company, having a proper inventory done will be invaluable if disaster strikes. You'll sleep better knowing you're ready to maintain your family's quality of life in a worst-case scenario.
Tags: News

Why You Should Leave Those Retirement Funds Alone

February 21, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 21, 2011--As a result of the recovering economy, many Americans are dipping into their retirement funds as a means to avoid foreclosure, pay college tuition or purchase a home. During the second quarter of this year, 62,000 workers began the process of withdrawing funds from a 401(k) plan, up from 45,000 during the first quarter, according to a recent study from Fidelity Investments. The declined real estate market and recent credit trends have limited homeowners' ability to secure home equity loans, giving consumers limited liquid assets to handle life's curve balls such as job loss, wage decrease or continued debt. Even if dipping into retirement funds seems like your only option, financial advisors still recommend that investors consider alternatives before severely raiding accounts that are supposed to sustain life after retirement. Here are five reasons why consumers should leave their 401(k) and other retirement funds intact: The market should recover. With prices down, and continuing to drop, it simply is not a good time to pull money out of your account. Depleting your balance just hurts you even further in an unstable market. When the market eventually comes back to life, which it will, you won't reap the benefits because you have limited your returns. Borrowing from a retirement account disturbs your money's ability to compound. By removing funds, you're essentially taking a step back from retirement. By keeping these funds out of mind, your dollars will compound into a lump sum that will be extremely helpful to you in the future. In the unfortunate event of job loss, any outstanding 401(k) loan balance becomes due immediately. After three months, if the balance isn't paid off, the loan becomes a taxable withdrawal, adding a 10% penalty on top of your regular income tax. Given the state of the economy and level of unemployment, taking out a loan from your 401(k) is an extremely risky gamble. Would you be able to pay the loan back immediately, if necessary? If not, leave those funds alone. Borrowing from your 401(k) simply means another payment, with interest, you must make. Borrowers must pay back the loan with post-tax dollars, which is a whole new ballgame when considering the pretax contributions. Someone in the 35% tax bracket would need to earn about $13,500 pretax to pay off a $10,000 loan, and that's before interest or loan administration fees get thrown into the mix. Your retirement funds are your safety net. Creditors cannot seize anything from your pension, 401(k) or IRA. If your financial situation is unsteady, keeping these protected accounts intact is even more important than ever. These are just a few of the reasons why consumers should avoid touching their retirement funds. With the proper plan and funds in place, your retirement can be a financially stress-free life. Source: The Wall Street Journal / SmartMoney
Tags: News




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