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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
February 18, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 18, 2011As part of ongoing efforts to strengthen the Federal Housing Administrations (FHA) capital reserves, FHA Commissioner David H. Stevens announced a new premium structure for FHA-insured mortgage loans increasing its annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP) by a quarter of a percentage point (.25) on all 30- and 15-year loans.The upfront MIP will remain unchanged at 1.0%. This premium change was detailed in President Obamas fiscal year 2012 budget, and will impact new loans insured by FHA on or after April 18, 2011.
After careful consideration and analysis, we determined it was necessary to increase the annual mortgage insurance premium at this time in order to bolster the FHAs capital reserves and help private capital return to the housing market, said Stevens.This quarter point increase in the annual MIP is a responsible step towards meeting the Congressionally mandated two percent reserve threshold, while allowing FHA to remain the most cost effective mortgage insurance option for borrowers with lower incomes and lower down payments.
The proposed change was announced last week as part of the Administrations report to Congress, which outlined the Administrations plan to reform the nations housing finance system. The Administrations housing finance plan also recommended that Congress allow the present increase in FHA conforming loan limits to expire as scheduled on October 1, 2011
This premium change enables FHA to increase revenues at a time that is critical to the ongoing stability of its Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) fund, which had capital reserves of approximately $3.6 billion at the end of FY 2010. The change is estimated to contribute nearly $3 billion annually to the Fund, based on current volume projections. It is vital that HUD take action to ensure that FHA will continue to serve its dual mission of providing affordable homeownership options to underserved American families and first-time home buyers while helping to stabilize the housing market during these tough times.
On average, new FHA borrowers will pay approximately $30 more per month. This marginal increase is affordable for almost all home buyers who would qualify for a new loan. Existing and HECM loans insured by FHA are not impacted by the pricing change.
FHA will continue to play an important role in the nations mortgage market in 2011.President Obamas FY 2012 budget projects the FHA will insure $218 billion in mortgage borrowing in 2012. These guarantees will support new home purchases and re-financed mortgages that significantly reduce borrower payments.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov.
February 18, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 18, 2011--While many Americans have finally gotten wise to the importance of saving a buck, Eric Tyson, author of Personal Finance in Your 20s For Dummies, wishes it hadnt taken a crisis to make the message sink in. And hes adamant that younger Americans learn from the free-spending, debt-accumulating mistakes of folks of all ages.
For most young people, their 20s are the first time they are completely financially independent, says Tyson. Its not unusual to go a little crazy and start buyingor financing, as the case may bewhat you want.
Realizing that you and only you are in charge of paying your bills, covering other expenses, and making sure you have enough left over to save can be overwhelming, he admits. But the smartest thing to do is to quickly get over that shock and begin making sound money decisions from the get-go.
How and where you spend your money is a matter of personal choice and priorities, but those choices can affect the amount of money you have to save. Here are a few tips from Tyson on how to save more and spend less:
Rent smart. When youre in your early 20s and you dont have dependents, living in a low-cost fashion is easier than it is later in life. There are many ways to minimize costs if you are renting your living space. Two great ways to keep costs down are living with relatives or having roommates. But no matter who you are living with (and certainly if you are living alone), you should minimize your monthly rent. Just be sure to factor in all the costs of moving to and living in a new rental.
Dont be afraid to negotiate your rental increases, says Tyson. Some landlords increase their tenants rent no matter how good the tenant has been and regardless of the state of the economy. That said, a smart landlord doesnt want to lose good tenants who pay rent on time. State your case through a well-crafted and polite note or personal visit.
Slice homeowner expenses. If you own a home or are about to buy one, you can take many steps to keep your ownership costs down and under control without neglecting your property or living like a pauper. The first step is to buy a home that fits your budget. During the real estate boom of the early- to mid-2000s, many people bought houses they couldnt truly afford. When the market crashed, some of those people with severely stretched budgets lost their homes to foreclosure because they got in over their heads, fell on hard times, and couldnt afford their monthly mortgage payments.
Remember, even if you can afford the monthly mortgage payment on a house youre looking to buy, if you have too little money left over for your other needs and wantssuch as taking trips, eating out, going to concerts, enjoying hobbies, or saving for retirementyour dream home may become a financial prison, notes Tyson.
Cut your taxes. Alongside the costs of owning or renting a home, taxes are the other large personal expenditure for most folks. Everyone gets socked with taxes when earning income and when investing and spending money. Thats the bad newsthe good news is that you can reduce the amount of taxes you pay by using some relatively simple yet powerful strategies.
One strategy is to utilize a retirement savings plan, explains Tyson. To take advantage of such plans, you must spend less than you earn. Only then can you afford to contribute to these plans. Another great strategy is to reduce the amount of sales tax you pay. To do so, you must spend less and save more."
Cook up lower food costs. One way to keep your food costs low is to avoid eating at restaurants and instead learn to cook for yourself. Making your own food is often healthier, and because you put in all that hard work, you end up enjoying the food more. When you go to buy the groceries youre going to cook up, avoid name-brand products and instead go for store brands. They are usually the same quality (and sometimes the same product) as the name brand at a lower price.
Get up and go for less. Getting to and fro on a daily basis can get expensive if you dont keep an eye on your expenses. Many people rely on cars for their transportation. Cars can be a tremendous financial burden, especially if you borrow to buy or lease the car. When possible, opting for public transportation is a great way to save money. And in some cities, it allows you to avoid having a car altogether. Another great option is to opt for two wheels instead of four. Riding your bike has the double benefit of saving you money and being great exercise.
If you must have a car, look at cheaper options than financing or leasing one, says Tyson. Spending on cars is one of the leading causes of overspending and undersaving. When buying a car, you should buy one you can afford with cash, which for many people means buying a good-quality used car."
Budget your fun funds. Having fun and taking time out for recreation can be money well spent. However, if you engage in financial extravagance in the name of fun, you can quickly wreck an otherwise good budget. Many movies, theaters, museums, and restaurants offer discount prices on certain days and times. And other recreational options, such as visiting with friends, hiking, reading, and playing sports, can be good for your finances as well as your mental and physical health.
Tame your technology spending. These days it seems like there is a never-ending stream of new gadgets. Unfortunately, though, the cost of these gadgets adds up. Err on the side of keeping your life simple. Doing so costs less, reduces stress, and allows more time for the things that really do matter in life.
"After fixed expenses, such as your rent or mortgage, food, insurance, and so on, you may not have much money left for fun discretionary spending, let alone additional savings," says Tyson. When it comes to building wealth, it doesnt matter what you make; its what you spend, and, therefore, are able to save, that counts. Learn to save more and spend less now, and you will be able to lead a less financially stressed life.