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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
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Phone: 215-453-7883
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
Fax: 267-354-6800
email: tom@tomskiffington.com
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Tom's Blog

Tips for Stretching a Small Living Room

November 22, 2017 1:42 am

Some people see a small living room as a cozy, intimate space. Others say they simply feel cramped. For those who fall into the latter category, professional decorators offer the following seven tips for making any living area look more spacious:

Clear out the clutter. Nothing makes a room look cramped like having too much stuff in it. Move magazines, collections and small décor items onto shelves, into drawers, or behind table skirts.

Open the pathway. When furniture blocks the view into a room, the whole room looks smaller. Move the sofa out of the middle of the room and choose low profile furniture, like short sofas, low tables and armless chairs. Remember that less is more. Get rid of any pieces you don’t need, and place taller pieces against the wall rather than out in open space.

Choose lighter hues. Warm, dark colors create a feeling of intimacy, while light, cool colors make any room seem more open and airy. For maximum effect, choose light shades of blue or green—or a combination of the two.

Let the light in. Any room will look more spacious if it’s well-lighted, either naturally or with a bit of help. Get rid of draperies and add more lamps, or install track lighting or recessed lights.

Try see-through pieces. By using materials you can see through, anything beyond them seems further away. Glass or lucite tops for dining or coffee tables will open up the view and make the room look bigger.

Use reflective surfaces. A mirrored wall will make any room look larger. If that seems to be too much, try a large framed mirror on one wall to help create an illusion of space and light.

Keep it monochrome. Select solid color upholstery instead of bold plaids or patterns. Use texture for interest and stick to neutral tones.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips for Tax-Deductible Charitable Donations

November 22, 2017 1:42 am

At the end of the year, thousands of Americans rush to make charitable donations to offset their taxes or help out their favorite causes. According to Senior CFP Board Ambassador Jill Schlesinger, CFP®, too often, Americans  may not recognize two keys to smart giving: careful vetting of charities, and tax planning that helps make the most of a gift.

"Considering how many people make charitable gifts at year-end, it's amazing how little thought and research can go into the process," Schlesinger says. "There are fake charities and scam artists who take advantage of generosity."

To combat this, Schlesinger offers the following checklist for Americans who are preparing to make end-of-year donations.

Step 1: Confirm the charity is legitimate by searching the IRS tool, Exempt Organizations Select Check. Cross-reference by asking the organization for its employee identification number, and then searching the same database for it.

Step 2: Research the charity's financial health. The Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Watch, GuideStar and Charity Navigator offer guidance on how charities spend money. Many Americans want to understand what portion of a donation goes to overhead, versus the cause itself.

Step 3: Determine how to donate. Options include donations of goods, checks, wire transfers and credit card payments. Americans can also donate appreciated securities and write off the current value of a stock, or make donations directly from their IRAs, though some rules apply.

Step 4: Keep good records. For any donation valued at $250 or more, the IRS requires a bank record, payroll deduction or written communication identifying the organization, the date and amount of the contribution and a description of the property.

To be deducted from 2017, donations must be given or postmarked by midnight on December 31.

Source: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Heat and Air Maintenance for the Holidays

November 22, 2017 1:42 am

With the holiday season right around the corner, your home will likely see more foot traffic. From friends stopping by with gifts, to parties and that yearly visit from the in-laws, your plumbing, heating and air units may be working overdrive.

"Attention to a few items in the home can help prepare you for visiting family and friends during the holidays," says Mike Nicholson, owner of Nicholson Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning. "Now is the time to take action on winterizing certain things in and around the home. It will give you peace of mind as the weather turns colder and holiday guests visit your home."

Nicholson offers these five tips to make sure the home is ready for colder weather and holiday visitors:

Check the plumbing: With the influx of visitors, toilets and fixtures will get a lot of use. Now is the best time to take care of any maintenance and repairs. If drains aren't flowing well and freely, plunge water into the drain first before you try to remove the trap in an attempt to clear it. Be mindful that some do-it-yourself, chemical drain cleaners can be harmful to your pipes. Instead, consider trying a natural remedy: pour equal parts salt, baking soda and vinegar to clean out a partial clog.

Tune up the heating: Winter often brings extremely cold temperatures, so you want to be sure your heating unit is working at peak efficiency. To make sure everyone is warm during the cold weather, try changing out your filters to give your system the best chance of success. You may also need a comprehensive heating system check. A system tune-up and filter replacement can go a long way toward preventing problems from putting a chill on your holiday plans.

Clean air ducts: To provide fresh, allergen-free air to your holiday houseguests, you will want to perform a thorough duct cleaning. When your ducts are filthy, your filters clog up faster and force your system to work harder to distribute air. This decreased efficiency leads to higher energy bills and excessive wear and tear on your system. Removing the registers and vacuuming the outlet is a good start, but you may want to opt for a whole-house duct cleaning to really do the job.

Seal drafty windows and doors: Applying caulk or weather stripping where cold air creeps in will help with energy savings. If cold air creeps in, that too will put a strain on the heating system's ability to keep your house warm and cozy for the holidays.

Winterize the exterior: To prevent pipes from bursting, ensure outdoor spigots are shut off as freezing weather approaches. Have some rock salt on hand to de-ice sidewalks to make sure your holiday visitors are safe.

Source: Nicholson Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Fraud Prevention Tips from a Pro

November 20, 2017 1:39 am

Frank Abagnale’s life as a teenage fraudster was brought to life in the Steven Spielberg film, “Catch Me if You Can,” based on the book Abagnale wrote about his years as a youthful con artist. After being caught, incarcerated and recruited by the FBI, however, Abagnale went on to serve the U.S. by developing sophisticated methods for defeating cyber crime for government entities, banks and businesses. Having turned down three presidential pardons, his work continues tirelessly to this day.

Here are a few of Abagnale’s tips for preventing fraud and cybercrime in our everyday lives:

Shred wisely. Not all shredders are created equal. Documents shredded by ribbon-cut shredders can be reassembled fairly easily, and cross-cut shredders are not foolproof either. The only shredder that permanently destroys a document is a micro-cut shredder.

Put away your debit card. Abagnale says the only way to really protect your money is by using a credit card - that way, if the card is stolen and used for fraudulent charges, you are legally protected by the credit card company. If your debit card information is compromised, however, so are the funds in your bank account for an indefinite period of time. One obvious caveat: use your credit card, but pay the balance in full each month. The idea only works if you don’t accrue interest and debt.

Use social media wisely. For Facebook in particular, do not use a profile picture that depicts a clear headshot photo. This can easily be captured by identity thieves. Instead, use a more abstract photo of yourself or show yourself in a group with others. Abagnale also recommends not including your birthdate and place of birth in your Facebook profile - more clues that make it easier for your identity to be stolen.

Avoid writing checks. Mailing checks to pay bills means the face of your check passes through many hands - exposing your key personal and checking account information to many people. Pay electronically instead, advises Abagnale.

Remember, anyone can fall victim to identity theft and fraud, so no precautions are too extreme!

Published with permission from RISMedia.

3 Ways to Check for Air Leaks in Your Home

November 20, 2017 1:39 am

Brrr, it's cold in here! If that's what you say every time you enter your living space, despite your heater working hard, you likely have an air leak.  

In a survey commissioned by Duck® brand and conducted online by Harris Poll, almost two-thirds of Americans live in a home that needs weatherization. Many of those homeowners aren't sure what products to buy or where to start. Don't let drafts sneak into your home this winter – follow the tips below to learn why weatherizing is important and how you can keep warm, and save on energy costs this season.

Where to start: Americans say that they feel large/fair amounts of drafts of cold air enter their homes through doors (24 percent), windows (25 percent) and attics (11 percent). Use these tactics to pinpoint the source of drafts in your home by:

- Holding your hand up to windows/doors to identify cracks or gaps – you should be able to feel a draft or temperature change.

- Look for daylight coming in through cracks/gaps – chances are if light comes through, so will drafts.

- Try blowing out a candle near windows, doors and electrical outlets – if smoke blows sideways, you have a leak.

Source: Duck brand

Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Winter Tire-Safety Tips to Practice Today

November 20, 2017 1:39 am

Driving in the winter can be dangerous. But even if you check road conditions and remain alert while driving, you can still be at danger if your tires aren't in tip-top shape. Below are a handful of helpful reminders from Discount Tire.

Get ready now. It is important to replace all four of your vehicle's all-season tires with winter tires if you regularly drive in temperatures 45 degrees or below, snow or no snow. Winter tires are made of a softer rubber that allows the tires to stay pliable and maintain better contact with the road through any winter weather conditions. Check online listings to find the best set of winter tires specific to your vehicle make and model and have them shipped directly to you.

Don't forget the wheels. Having a set of wheels specifically for your winter tires will save you money in the long run. Pairing a separate set of wheels with your winter tires will eliminate certain changeover costs and save your expensive wheels from the wear and tear brought on by ice, slush, snow and salt during the winter months.

Know your numbers. Check your tire pressure at least once a month to make sure tires are at the appropriate inflation level. Temperature changes affect tire pressure – for every 10 degrees of temperature change, tire air pressure changes 1 PSI (pound per square inch). Low tire pressure leads to decreased steering and braking control, poor gas mileage, excessive tire wear and the possibility of tire failure. And don't forget to check your spare tire too!

Rotate, rotate, rotate. To increase tread life and smooth out your ride, rotate your tires every 6,000 miles or sooner if irregular or uneven wear develops.

Source: www.discounttire.com

 

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Let Your Photos Take Center Stage

November 17, 2017 1:39 am

One of the many great things about today’s smartphone cameras is that they allow you to take high-quality photos anywhere, anytime. The wide range of filters and settings turns amateurs into fashion photographers, travel reporters and SoHo artists.

The bad thing about this newfound accessibility to photography, however, is that most of those photos never make it off your phone. Once you take them and share a few on social media, they often get lost in the ether of the Cloud or some drive on your PC. Here are some creative ways to bring your favorite photos out from their digital recesses and into the world for you and others to enjoy on a regular basis:

Set up slideshows as screensavers on your laptop and desktop computers. You can even use this feature on your smart TV and let the slide show play when friends and family are gathered for the next holiday.

Make an annual photo book. Gather the best of your photos for a given year and flow them into an annual photo book. People will be more apt to pick up a hard copy of the year’s highlights as opposed to scrolling through your phone.

Make separate albums for special trips you’ve taken. After all, your vacation to Fiji deserves more than a few shots on Facebook or a fleeting image on Snapchat.

Get artsy with your favorite shots. Have them printed on canvases or framed as posters to showcase in key areas of your home.

Put endearing shots of friends, family and pets on everything from pillows and throws to mugs and calendars. That way you’ll be reminded of who matters most every time you use these functional items.

Consider going old school and making photos a social occasion. Invite a few friends over for a slide show of your European vacation or of your newest grandchild, and serve drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Invite them to connect their device to view their latest life event too.  

These ideas will help make your photos what they’re intended to be: precious memories of the people and places that matter to you.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Property Claims Satisfaction Surges, Even As Catastrophes Escalate

November 17, 2017 1:39 am

Although recent property insurance claim calls have escalated with fires, flooding and storm damages being reported all over the country, overall customer satisfaction among homeowners filing property insurance claims has reached a new all-time high.

The latest J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Property Claims Satisfaction Study notes this surge in insurance customer satisfaction corresponds with a 10-year high in catastrophic events, which are typically associated with lower satisfaction scores.

The study measures satisfaction with the property claims experience among insurance customers who have filed a claim for damages by examining five factors (listed in order of importance): settlement; first notice of loss; estimation process; service interaction; and repair process. Satisfaction is calculated on a 1,000-point scale with the overall Customer Satisfaction Index reaching a new all-time high for the study.

The largest single driver of the improvement is the settlement factor, which encompasses the fairness of the settlement amount, followed by estimation process and service interaction.

Following are some of the key findings of that 2017 J.D. Power property claims study:

- The West posts the largest improvement nationwide, amid a period where the toll from wildfires has yet to be fully reconciled. A handful of states with more volatile weather claims — most notably Texas, Florida, and Massachusetts —  post flat to declining scores.

- Weather-related claims elsewhere achieve the highest overall improvement in claims satisfaction, with high wind- and hail-related claims leading the way. However, water-related claims, which tend to take longer to resolve, are linked to lower overall satisfaction scores.

- High wind and hail claims are the most frequent weather-related claims in this year’s study, and both are correlated with relatively high satisfaction scores, regardless of total cycle time. Water-related claims, by contrast, are associated with the lowest satisfaction scores. On the whole, water-related claims score 39 points lower than hail-related claims.

- Slow resolution time is the primary driver of lower scores for water-related claims, with the time it took to a settle claim receiving a rating that is 0.40 points lower (on a 10-point scale) than other claims types for water-related claims.

Source: www.jdpower.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Ways to Ease Holiday Travel

November 17, 2017 1:39 am

The hustle and bustle of travel during the holiday can be a major headache. To help ease your journey, MultiVu offers the following tips for smooth driving and flying this happy holiday season.

Do your homework. Before you commit to a travel plan, comparison shop. Use a travel review site such as Booking.com to cross reference lodging, car rentals, wellness retreats and more to make sure you're getting exactly what you expect before you pull out that credit card.

Protect yourself. From hurricanes to earthquakes, there's a lot that's not in our control. But something that is? Protecting our travel investment with travel insurance coverage. Travel insurance can reimburse your non-refundable expenses if you must cancel a trip due to sickness or injury and most importantly, it'll cover you for medical emergencies that may happen while you're traveling.

Lighten the load. During the holidays, consider sending unwrapped gifts in advance to your destination to lighten your load and wrapping them upon arrival. Pack a capsule wardrobe so that you can mix and match your outfits, and find out if laundry services are available at your destination so you can do a light load while on the road. Wear your heaviest clothing item, like a knitted sweater or peacoat, to lighten the weight of luggage or leave more room for packing. Think about things you don't need, and consider going more natural to save weight: hair dryer, hair spray, your entire skincare lineup (maybe just take the moisturizer and sunscreen in travel-sized containers and a mini makeup kit),

On the go games. Traveling with a brood? The best kid games on the go are the ones without small pieces and that don't make a lot of noise: cards, coloring, reading books are great. Car games that require rider participation are also a wonderful way to keep kids entertained and don't require any packing.

Source: MultiVu

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Ward Off Identity Theft This Holiday Season

November 15, 2017 1:39 am

Identity theft is a scary thought year-round, but during the holidays, the last thing you want to deal with is the headache and hassle of a stolen identity. Consider the following safety precautions from IdentityForce.

Be Charitable without Giving Access to Bank Accounts. Conduct research before donating to a non-profit. Be wary of a charity that uses a name closely resembling a well-known organization. If donating online, avoid crowdfunding or only donate to those people you know personally as it is extremely difficult to verify where your donation is going.

Volunteer Your Time, Not Your Identity. Many food banks or soup kitchens require a driver's license or a background check before volunteering. If sensitive personal information is required, ask about their privacy and data security practices. Also, do not sign open-ended consent forms. If this is mandatory, confirm that the forms are encrypted.

Don't Let an Online Shopping Scam Fool You. Avoid buying from merchants operating websites that are not secure. Hackers may set up websites designed to look like those of a legitimate seller. Before purchasing from them, research the organization and check with the Better Business Bureau. Additionally, look for the HTTPS and lock symbol in your browser address bar.    

Proceed with Caution When Applying for a Seasonal Job. On a job application, include only your name, address, telephone number, email address and relevant job history. Do not include the SSN, date of birth, or driver's license number. If an employer requests that information before granting an interview, ask to withhold the information until an in-person interview is possible.

Don't Overshare on Social. Hackers will try to sell stolen identities on the Dark Web, and often the gateway to gain access to personal information can be via social networks. When posting online, do not provide specifics. Social media identity theft relies on seemingly inconsequential details that can be linked together. The more dates, names and facts shared, the easier it is for thieves to impersonate your accounts. Also, remind friends and family not to share their personal information.

Source: IdentityForce

Published with permission from RISMedia.





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