September 28, 2010

Home Security and Back to School Time

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 1:38 pm

Back to school season is a time of transition for all families who have school children. But in the midst of all the hustle and bustle it is important to remember that burglars and other bad guys also keep track of back to school time. For them the strict adherence to a family schedule and routine can offer a better opportunity to strike a house, for example, when they know that nobody will be home and the premises are vulnerable.
• With kids back in school and parents also working homes are usually left vacant for most of the day, whereas during the summer months when school is out of session the house is often a beehive of neighborhood activity.

• Schedules during the summer also tend to be less rigid and more unpredictable, but school hours are standardized. Everyone knows what time the local school bell rings in the morning, and they also know what time the school buses hit the street in the afternoon to bring kids home.

• There are also many scheduled and published extracurricular events like soccer and cheerleading practices that contribute to the predicable routine that families with school children follow this time of year.

• The way to ensure that this situation does not create an unwanted opportunity for thieves to exploit you and your property is to be aware of the fact that any routine is easy to monitor, and leaving your home empty for a long period of time makes it more vulnerable.
If you know you are going to be at the beach for a week there are certain steps you probably take to beef up security. You might, for example, have a watchful and friendly neighbor keep an eye on things for you, and you might set a timer to turn lights off and on inside the home to give the property the appearance of being occupied. Sometimes you’ll have a friend park a car in the driveway so it looks like somebody is home. You probably notify the post office and the newspaper subscription service and have them suspend deliveries while you’re gone so that those conspicuous items don’t pile up on the front doorstep and leave a telltale sign that nobody has been home for days. By considering some of those vacation strategies – including many that are probably still fresh in your mind coming off of the summer holiday season – you will begin to see effective ways to also create the impression that people are home during hours when school is in session.
• Instead of being gone for six or eight days you may only be leaving the house for six or eight hours, of course, so you will only need to use “mini” versions of those same kinds of strategies and tricks.

• You obviously do not want to disrupt mail, newspaper, and package delivery, for example, but if you have a retired neighbor or a friend who works from home and lives down the street you could ask them to pick up those things while they are on their midday stroll. They can put them in a less visible location, and that will make it seem like someone was home to accept delivery.

• If someone is monitoring the home and thinking of breaking into it they will most likely go away and look for a much easier target once they notice that a neighbor comes by occasionally to check on things.

• Similarly, you can use the same light timer gadgets that you deployed while you were out of town during the summer to create the illusion of domestic activity inside the house while everyone is actually gone.

• Have it turn on and off the TV, for instance, or activate your CD player or radio. Nothing indicates that somebody is at home like the sound of music or a television program playing at random times during the day.

• Of course it may be a lot simpler to just have an affordable burglar alarm system installed, and if that system is monitored by a security service then you gain an additional layer of protection.

• Don’t hesitate to advertise it to the bad guys, either. Many security company decals or yard signs are very discreet so they don’t detract from the aesthetic appeal of your home. But they are prominent enough that they get noticed by professional criminals who always pay close attention to those kinds of tip-offs and clues.
Remember that the first objective of any burglar is to stay out of jail. Everything else is secondary. So really all you need to do to succeed at improving your home security is to take simple and easy steps like those outlined above to make your home a less attractive target.

Homeowner Maintenance Tips for “Leaf Season”

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 1:36 pm

Something about autumn makes chores more fun. Maybe that’s because the air is crisp and cool and it is more comfortable to get outside and work, as opposed to doing home maintenance under the sweltering heat of a blistering sun. You don’t have all those mosquitoes to contend with either, and everyone knows that there is something especially fun about raking leaves with the kids and then watching them play in the piles.
But homeowner maintenance this time of year is about a lot more than just cranking up the noisy leaf blower to clear off the sidewalk. For one thing, autumn offers one of the last good opportunities to prepare your home for the next several months. After winter is upon us those otherwise simple and routine outdoor chores can be nearly impossible to accomplish thanks to frigid temperatures, slick icy surfaces, and the possibility that an unexpected storm will dump a foot of snow in your path to bring your efforts to a sudden halt. So now is the ideal time to avoid procrastination and take advantage of the beautiful weather outside to attend to everything on your autumn home maintenance checklist.

Here are some suggestions to help you start making that list:

• Check the Trees

They say that when you clean a room you should start up high and work your way down, and the same goes for examining your home. Look up, checking for any dead branches that might fall and puncture the roof, damage your car, or in the worst case scenario hit someone and seriously injure them. Have a tree surgeon remove dead wood if necessary before the season gets blustery and those limbs and branches come raining down on top of you.

• Police the Gutters

Keep the gutters free of debris, too, because when they are filled with leaves, sticks, and branches they cannot effectively and efficiently channel rainwater safely away from your home. They also get heavy and begin to sag or break, and cleaning out the gutters is really inexpensive when compared to the cost of repairing or replacing them.

• Examine the Roof

Also look for any curled flashing or loose and damaged roof shingles that need to be replaced or repaired. Those will eventually become serious leaks that are really complicated and expensive to remedy in the middle of winter when nobody wants to climb on an icy roof. When heated air escapes through the roof your heating costs also go through the roof, so an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

• Don’t Let Your Money Escape

Money goes literally right out the window if you have cracked window panes, dried and missing caulk, and other opportunities for warm air to slip away and heat the great outdoors with your precious utility bill money. But the good news is that one of the easiest and cheapest ways to insulate your home for the colder months is by doing things like caulking, replacing cracked panes, adding weather stripping, and wrapping heating pipes.

• Study Your Budget

If you had really high heating bills last winter you might want to also invest about $10 per window and cover the windows from the inside with plastic made for that purpose. You can buy a kit at any home improvement store and do it yourself with a hairdryer and it only takes a few minutes per window to apply. The plastic is practically invisible and not at all unsightly if you apply it correctly, and it can save you hundreds of dollars in heating costs over the next several months.
Remember that many easy projects – including those you can do yourself – will become major headaches in winter because of the change in weather. A crack in the concrete, for instance, is relatively easy to patch this time of year. But after it fills with rainwater, freezes, and then expands it gets worse. But most sealants can’t be used in frigid weather so you are stuck with a problem you can’t fix. The same goes for exterior painting or masonry maintenance like filling in voids in the mortar between bricks. Do those chores now and they are going to be pretty easy. But wait until winter and they may become virtually impossible.
All of these important items will help to keep your home safe while ensuring that you also retain your real estate value and avoid any expensive problems down the road. Doing them now keeps them simple and manageable, and it also gives you that unique pride and satisfaction that is such a big and rewarding part of the overall home ownership experience.

Understanding Home Inspections as a Buyer or Seller

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 1:34 pm

Although it is typically paid for by the buyer and conducted for the benefit of the buyer, the home inspection component of every residential real estate transaction is of great importance to both the buyer and the seller. That’s because the observations made by the inspector can have a huge impact on the overall transaction and can trigger other events like repairs or negotiations regarding the final sales price. The results of the inspection can also influence approval of financing by a bank or mortgage lender, so almost everyone involved has a stake in the outcome of the inspection and the findings that are documented in the home inspection report.

In the majority of situations there are only two basic inspections that are required or requested, namely a general inspection and a termite inspection. That’s because most of the time there is no compelling reason to do others that are of a more specialized nature. As a buyer or seller you’ll probably be most interested in understanding those two kinds of common inspections, so here is some information to help describe them.

The Wood Infestation and Termite Inspection

Most lenders require that before they give final approval to finance a home the buyer order one of these inspections and get an official certificate from the inspector that documents a clean bill of health. The so-called “termite certificate” verifies that the home has no problems with termites or other wood damaging infestations. These inspections and reports come from a licensed pest control business, although other inspectors may be licensed to conduct their own wood infestation inspections if they get the proper training.

If the inspector does discover infestation then the buyer and seller can negotiate to have the damage remedied and the house repaired. In that case the seller typically incurs the expenses. Then the house can be inspected again, and if it passes the inspection the mortgage company should be satisfied. But even if you are buying a home without the help of a bank or other lender you should order this kind of inspection. Otherwise you won’t know for sure whether your house is in great condition or if unseen problems are festering and breeding in the woodwork.

The General Buyer’s Inspection

There are two types of general inspections. One is the Limited Visual Property Inspection and the other is a Comprehensive Property Inspection. As their names imply one is more detailed than the other. In fact the Comprehensive Property Inspection is usually also more invasive, because in order to thoroughly examine all the parts of home it is often necessary to remove or take apart a few things in order to gain access to every nook and cranny.

This type of inspection might include digging up samples of dirt around the house, for example, so that the soil can be tested. Or the buyer may pay for the furnace to be partially dismantled so that the inspector can check the heat exchanger, which is a vital internal component of many furnace systems. As you might have guessed these inspections also take substantially longer to conduct and cost more, depending on the size of the house, its age and condition, and what particular systems and features are present.

Meanwhile most buyers elect to have a Limited Visual Inspection done, and that is also the kind of inspection that is normally requested by the mortgage lender. This inspection is non-invasive and the inspector checks for defects in systems or structures that can be readily seen with the naked eye.

The inspector will turn on appliances, for example, if they are on the premises and the utilities are still on, and will report whether or not they are in proper working condition. A report will also offer recommendations for needed repairs. If he or she finds what appears to be faulty wiring, for example, the report will recommend consulting a licensed electrician. Your inspector may suggest calling in an engineer, a roofing company, a masonry contractor, or some other expert as is necessary and appropriate to conduct a more in-depth investigation or to offer bids for repairs.

But as alluded to before, there are lots of different types of rather specialized home inspections. There are inspections that focus primarily on environmental issues, for example, like asbestos contamination or the presence of toxic mold or dangerous levels of radon or carbon monoxide gas. If you have a particular concern or if a general inspection report recommends that you consult one of these unique types of inspectors then you’ll find them to be extremely helpful.

Or if you are buying a foreclosure, for instance, you should order a foreclosure inspection, and if you are buying a brand new house that is newly constructed it is prudent to have a new construction inspection done before you finalize your purchase.

The bottom line is that whenever you’re considering buying a home a qualified home inspector is there to assist you with evaluating the condition of the home. He or she will be one of your best and most helpful and valuable allies, and the price paid for the inspection is a real bargain considering the invaluable reassurance and insight that a good inspection offers to the prospective buyer.