December 6, 2011

Homeowner Tips: Inspection Services Can Save Maintenance Money

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 5:08 pm

Everyone’s more focused on saving money these days, but one service that can generally pay for itself in terms of savings on home repairs is often overlooked. Most homeowners don’t connect the dots between home maintenance after buying a home and the kind of home inspection that is done during the purchase of that property.

But those who do think about it for a moment and do a simple cost-benefit analysis usually come to the quick conclusion that home inspections are not just for saving buyers from buying a house that’s a lemon. They are only one of the most cost effective ways to ensure that continued home ownership is a manageable task, and that annual home maintenance and repair costs are kept to a minimum.

Here are some examples of how you can take advantage of the services and expertise of a home inspector.

Moisture and Drainage:

• Drainage and moisture are big problems for many homeowners, but most of these issues don’t get noticed until they are serious and repairing them is complicated. But a homeowner can have an inspector look for telltale signs.
• That might include spotting moisture wicking into basements, leaking from overfilled drain pans, being diverted toward the foundation by incorrectly installed or malfunctioning gutters.
• The inspector may also point out curling roof shingles, peeling paint that can lead to wood rot, and improper landscaping strategies.

Electrical Wiring:

• Many homes have inadequate circuit breakers, the wrong kind of wiring, overloaded fixtures, and other conditions that can rob of a home of energy or even cause a fire.
• They often have insufficient safety measures due to a lack of GFCI outlets in places where water is present and could cause an electrical shock.
• When electricity is run to the outdoors that presents a different set of circumstances, and oftentimes outdoor wiring is not properly rated or installed for use in the outdoors – which can present safety hazards.
• But a home inspector can check appliances, look at the breaker box, examine visible wiring, and test the outlets and around your home and offer written suggestions for needed repairs or upgrades.

Energy Costs:

• One of the biggest ways a home inspector can help the homeowner save money is by monitoring energy use or doing a special energy audit to find out how much heat escapes from the home in winter.
• Sometimes the solutions are simple and inexpensive, too, which an inspector can point out if applicable. Wrapping a water heater tank in insulation, fixing leaky plumbing pipes, wrapping hot water pipes with insulation, or using a different type of light fixture or appliance setting can often save hundreds of dollars.
• Meanwhile an inspector is trained to spot minor problems like missing caulk, ineffective weather stripping, or dirty filters and HVAC systems that may benefit from a simple tune-up.

Environmental Hazards

• Then there are those potentially threatening environmental hazards like radon gas, toxic mold, asbestos, or unacceptable levels of formaldehyde or carbon monoxide gas.
• These are often present but the homeowner doesn’t know it, and they impact the health and safety of residents while undermining the market value of the home. Nothing is more valuable than one’s health, so having a skilled environmental inspector check the home can be a really wise investment.

So rather than hiring contractors – whose whole motivation is to find ways to get you to hire them – or trying to go it alone, why not invest a couple of hundred bucks or so (which is comparable to the expense of a single service call or professional repair) to add an experienced home inspector to your team? He or she can offer unbiased but highly trained insight and reporting that can help you control property upkeep costs while preserving home equity and ensuring house performance that contributes to your family’s comfort and quality of life.

Winter Real Estate Strategies: Why now is a great time to buy.

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 5:04 pm

Conventional wisdom tells us that the peak season for residential real estate sales is in the springtime, when the weather is beautiful, homes have great curb appeal for sellers, and buyers come out of their winter hibernation. But experienced real estate investors understand that the way to take advantage of the best bargains is to buy when nobody else is buying. That’s when sellers are more motivated, mortgage companies are more eager to make loans to avoid lost revenues, and buyers have the advantage of less competition from other competitive bidders submitting purchase offers.

One big factor that influences pricing for home sellers is the cost of upkeep, for example, or the need to sell and cash-out in order to save money or avoid foreclosure. If a homeowner has already vacated the property, for example, they still need to maintain homeowner’s insurance and keep the utilities turned on in order for Realtors to show the home. They are still servicing the mortgage, paying property taxes, and facing the responsibility of any needed repairs.

During winter they will probably need to keep the home heated, for instance, to avoid the risk of a plumbing pipe freezing and bursting. Plus empty homes are an easy target for vandals, and it is more difficult to take care of such things as landscape maintenance. So a homeowner still holding on to a listed property will usually be eager to unload it before the long slow winter season comes. If they add up all the monthly expenses of holding on to the home it may be as much as two or three thousand dollars for a typical home. Multiply that times four months and suddenly it makes sense to offer a serious discount to a buyer willing to close the sale now. Buyers who understand these factors can often negotiate for a fantastic deal, with either a discount off the listing price or a homeowner agreeing to help play closing costs.

Another reason for buyers to consider shopping in winter is that it is such a slow season for real estate that Realtors may have very few active clients. Not only are people reluctant to shop for homes in cold weather, but they are also preoccupied with holiday plans. So if you are a serious pre-qualified buyer you can expect to get extra special attention from your real estate agent. Rather than having to juggle the needs and schedules of several buyers at once, many Realtors during wintertime can focus exclusively on you and helping you find the perfect home.

Last but not least, one of the most compelling reasons to buy now instead of waiting for next spring is that mortgage rates are historically low. But interest rates cannot stay low forever without risking high inflation, so as soon as the economy shows any signs of renewed health the Fed will begin to raise rates. Once that begins, experts predict that they will continue a steady rise from the extremely cheap rates we are now enjoying. So if you want to lock in a reliable and affordable fixed-rate loan, at one of the lowest interest rates in American history, this is the time to do so.

You can snag a dream rate on a safe mortgage and then get an incredible bargain on a great home, with all the personal care and attention you expect from a real estate agent. That’s lots of good reasons to shop this winter, even if you do have to dress warmly and use your imagine to visualize what the yard will look like next spring when the home belongs to you.

Most people avoid shopping for property during winter. But those who recognize the opportunity of shopping “off season,” however, have a lot going for them. That will be especially true during the coming months, because of the various advantages of winter home buying coupled with extremely low interest rates.

4 Holiday Gift Ideas for the Do It Yourself Homeowner

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 5:03 pm

If you are fortunate enough to have someone around the house who is a DIY maintenance and repair person, encourage that inclination by giving him or her some valuable tools.

Here are four great ideas for those who want to find the perfect holiday gift for someone who enjoys getting the job done right when it comes to homeowner chores, repairs, remodeling, or other maintenance and improvement projects.

A Powerful Pocket Flashlight

These days it is possible to buy an excellent flashlight that shoots a strong, luminous beam but doesn’t require tons of big batteries. You can find them with conventional bulbs or with high intensity LED bulbs.

One of the best on the market is the Model 2360 made by Pelican and available at retailers including Wal-Mart. For less than $30 this pocket flashlight gives you the power you’d expect from one of those 18-inch long police flashlights. In fact it’s made by a company that supplies flashlights to major police departments so it is durable enough to withstand rigorous use.

But it is only six inches long and weighs just a few ounces, and it operates on inexpensive AA batteries. Meanwhile it shines a beam of light so brilliant that it makes the darkest corner in your basement look as if it is between the headlights of your car.

A Rechargeable Drill/Electric Screwdriver

If they don’t already have a good battery-powered cordless drill and screwdriver, a rechargeable cordless model is the way to go. When charged these provide labor-saving torque and will keep on working for a while even after the electricity goes out.

The best models have lightweight lithium batteries, too, so they weigh less and cause less hand fatigue while still doing a powerfully good job. Some models work as both a screwdriver and a drill, and if you buy one rated “contractor grade” it should hold up well even when used for a serious home improvement or construction project.

A Set of Ceramic Knife Sharpening Rods

For less than $20 it is possible to buy a pair of ceramic rods that fit into a wooden base. Once assembled the knife sharpening unit resembles a small set of old-fashioned rabbit ear TV antennae. Each of the small round rods protrudes out at an angle, so that they form a basic V shape.

To sharpen a utility knife, kitchen knife, or other edged blade utensil you simply glide the cutting edge along the inside of the V. Ceramic is an extremely hard material that polishes in a way that is comparable to diamond – which is the hardest mineral on earth. So a ceramic rod sharpening system provides a simple and effective way to keep knives razor sharp – and sharp knives are much safer to use than are dull ones. That’s because a dull knife will often skip, jump, or slip while you’re using it – and when that happens it may accidentally veer off track and slice into you instead of whatever it is you are trying to cut.

A Leatherman Multi-Tool

The Leatherman company is famous for making top quality multi-tools in all different configurations and sizes. A multi-tool, for those unfamiliar with them, is basically a heavy duty Swiss Army knife with lots of handy tools mounted on one single gadget.

You can find multi-tools that contain a range of innovative tools especially useful to electricians. Or shop for those that contain tools tailored to carpenters. There are also models designed for campers and outdoor sports enthusiasts.

These make a wonderful gift that will likely see lots of practical use, because having a good multi-tool is like having a portable and handy miniature toolkit the size of a pocketknife.

The DIY person in your household will be happy to get a highly useful tool that makes their life easier, and they’ll also be impressed by your thoughtfulness and creativity in finding great labor-saving gadgets.

Home Maintenance Checklist for December

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 5:02 pm

December is a month of celebrations and gatherings, which means it is also a time of great distraction. But home maintenance and safety issues don’t ever take a holiday. So to ensure that your holidays are not disrupted by the annoying and inconvenient need for home repairs – or overshadowed by a threat to your family’s safety and well being – make time to check the items on this list.

• Many homeowners who put up Christmas trees have gone the artificial tree route, because these days there are many very realistic looking artificial trees on the market. You can use them year after year, and they are much safer and less messy than real trees. But if you put a real tree in your home, be sure to keep it hydrated.

• When trees are in a heated space and they do not have enough water in their basins they can dry out very quickly. Once that happens the entire tree turns into a fire hazard, because dried needles and branches are extremely flammable. That’s why it is also important to only us UL safety-rated strings of lights with the proper wattage, safe wiring, and adequate electrical circuitry. When in doubt consult an electrician or as your local fire department for safety tips and guidance.

• If you’ve put it off until now, have an HVAC contractor check your heating system. Getting a tune-up of your boiler or furnace can save you hundreds of dollars this winter because of the high cost of energy and fuel, so a basic HVAC service call should pay for itself within a matter of weeks.

• It is also a good idea to remove and store any window-mounted air conditioners that you may have. These appliances can be damaged by exposure to frigid winter temperatures. Store them in a clean, dry place. To avoid losing the mounting hardware you can place it in a plastic bag and then tape the bag to the side of the unit. (If it seems too difficult to remove them, then consider covering them with an insulating blanket.)

• You should also be extra cautious during the holiday season not to leave candles burning and unattended. While they can be nostalgic or romantic it is also easy to forget to blow them out before going out for the evening or going to sleep.

• Another culprit that contributes to accidental fires each year is space heaters left too close to flammable material such loosely hanging bedding, Christmas trees, or wrapping paper discarded by children in a hurry to open presents. Remember that space heaters need their space.

• One other thing to keep in mind during December – when you may be eating lots of chocolate and adding antifreeze to your vehicles – is that these can harm your pets. Dogs can get deathly ill if they eat chocolate, so keep it out of their reach. Meanwhile antifreeze smells yummy to pets but if they drink even a small amount of it that was spilled on the driveway it can poison them to death. So take extra precautions to ensure not only the well being of your family but also the health and safety of your furry friends.

Take a few hours or a weekend to tick off items like this on your December home maintenance checklist. The time you take may help you prevent a catastrophe during one of the happiest seasons of the year. Do it now, though, because once the season is in full swing you will be too busy and too distracted – and you don’t want to neglect these small projects that can save you time, money, and aggravation later on this winter.