January 17, 2012

Year-End Homeowner’s Insurance Checklist

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 12:24 pm

Homeowner’s insurance is one of those things that sort of wind up forgotten about until we need them the most. You spend a little time shopping for it when you first buy a home, for example, and then the monthly payments for your policy are automatically tied into your mortgage payment. So you can basically forget about it, and that’s what most people do.

Then an accident happens. A tree limb crashes through the attic, or the basement gets flooded. There is a kitchen fire, a tornado, or a lawsuit because someone trips on the stairs and breaks a leg. You suddenly become really focused on that insurance policy, and start scanning through pages of small print to figure out what your options are and whether or not you’re covered.

So it is a good idea for every homeowner to have an annual insurance checklist, sort of like an annual physical at the doctor’s office. You may not be sick and need to go to the emergency room, but if you are staying on top of your health then you still take time out from your busy life and make an appointment for that once-a-year checkup. The same should apply to homeowner’s insurance. You don’t need to have an emergency or a hole in the roof to get you thinking about your insurance, and if you make it an annual end-of-the-year task then you will be able to do a much better job of staying on top of any issues related to your important homeowner’s insurance.

Have you acquired any new items that should be added to your policy? Expensive belongings – from jewelry and computers to musical instruments or antiques – often fall outside the limits of a basic policy. In that case you need to notify your agent because it may be necessary to purchase additional coverage to insure those things.
Can you prove you own something that you might later need to file a claim for if it is stolen, damaged, or destroyed? Insurance companies don’t reimburse without a valid reason, so make sure you hold on to purchase receipts and keep an inventory of belongings that is updated annually. Photograph your stuff, or better yet make a simple home video. Just go from room to room, pointing the camera at everything and zooming in on the especially valuable items. Later you may need to use that visual inventory as evidence.

Another part of your insurance checklist is a physical inspection of your home, both indoors and outside. If you have falling limbs from a diseased tree, for example, that condition needs to be attended to by hiring an arborist. Otherwise if your home is damaged by a fallen tree or someone is injured by a falling branch the insurance company may claim that it was your fault, and refuse your claim. Other things to look out for are drainage problems that could cause flooding, loose roof shingles, shaky and unstable handrails, broken or slippery stairs, and unsafe wiring.

When in doubt, hire a professional inspector to conduct a walk-through and give you a written report indicating any special areas that might represent safety hazards or needed repairs. The first time you make out your insurance checklist and then take care of the items on it, it may seem like a challenge. But if you consult your insurance agent they can help you, and once you’ve made up a checklist then it will be really easy to refer back to once a year and it won’t take much time at all to do this helpful annual checklist task.

The Real Estate Inspection Profession: Who makes a good candidate for this kind of rewarding career?

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 12:22 pm

You – or someone you know – may be just getting started after finishing school or completing military service, and are in the process of examining your career options. Or you may be interested in changing careers or taking on an extra career later in life. Lots of people do that, and you may want to augment your income or get into a new line of work that is more interesting and exciting and provides you with a greater degree of fulfillment, both personally and professionally. Perhaps you are already a home inspection professional, but you appreciate the value of expanding your business and want to know what kind of people are your best candidates for adding to your team.

No matter why you have an interest in the home inspection profession, it is always helpful to know whether it seems suitable to you and your personality. If you have the right traits or background, it may be just what you’re looking for as a career. Or if you are already in the inspection industry, knowing what kind of people are best cut out to this type of work will help you when you are recruiting, interviewing, and hiring other inspectors.

One of the main things that is important is to have a passion for helping people who want to buy a home, make a good purchase, and then take care of that asset in order to provide a good home and investment for themselves and their family. For almost all Americans this is a huge step, and a big part of their dream in life. But although they are making what is usually the most expensive purchase of a lifetime, most consumers know very little about houses, construction, and home equipment and systems.

They need expert assistance, and they want someone that they can trust and rely on to guide them through the process. As a home inspector you become one of the most important people in that regard, because with your help they determine exactly what condition the property is in and whether it is a wise investment or a house that may need extraordinary repairs before it becomes livable and safe.

In order to convey that insight and information, inspectors also need to be exceptionally good at both written and verbal communications. You need to be able to answer questions accurately, clearly, and completely, and to provide your answers and information in a professional inspection report format and also through interpersonal conversation, emails, phone calls, and so forth. So if a person is good with people, and knows how to convey complex and sometimes complicated information in a way that becomes easy to understand, then they can be a great asset to the home inspection profession.

Naturally, to be a good inspector, you also have to take a strong interest in how homes are designed, built, equipped, and maintained. That’s why many of the best and most successful home inspectors arrived at this career through other related careers like construction, heating and air conditioning, plumbing, building appraisal, real estate sales, or landscape architecture. Unlike many careers, the work of a home inspector is multifaceted and involves a diverse set of skills and covers a wide range of knowledge and expertise. So if you have worked around homes and real estate in other capacities, you may find that you already have a head start in terms of learning what it takes to be a successful inspector.

Attention to detail is very important. A keen eye for spotting things that others might overlook or miss is the key to doing an excellent inspection. You need to be a person who believes in lifelong learning, too, because as construction techniques evolve and change and real estate laws are updated, you have to stay informed and ahead of the learning curve. Integrity is a must, and if a candidate lacks professional integrity or is unreliable, they won’t make it as a home inspector. The regulations are stringent, and when it comes to determining such things as the safety of a resident, people’s lives may even be at stake. People expect you to work hard, be on time, and deliver on your promises – while maintaining a professional attitude and a strong code of ethics.

If you are someone you know has these kinds of qualities, then the home inspection business may be the ideal career. Not only will you love the work and enjoy the satisfaction of being in an industry where you can earn a good income while running your own business, but at the end of the day you’ll be proud of the valuable service you provide for your clients and neighbors in the community.

Real Estate Strategies: Beware the 2nd mortgage

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 12:21 pm

The volume of pending home sales continues to stay above the levels that were recorded last year, according to the National Association of Realtors. Interest rates have hit all-time lows, buyers are enjoying some of the most affordable pricing in years, and as the excess foreclosure inventories shrink, values are starting to rise after years of deteriorating equity.

For homeowners, home buyers, and real estate professionals this should all be interpreted as positive news that the worst is behind us after years of housing market and mortgage industry fear and loss.

The housing crisis taught us many things, and hopefully people have wised up and learned how to avoid the mistakes that got us into that mess in the first place. One lesson that everyone ought to take forward has to do with the often overlooked power of the second mortgage or home equity loan.

Many Americans are primarily focused on the damage done by being underwater on first mortgages, because those are bigger and are the direct reason that homeowners slide into foreclosure as they default on their monthly payments. But it is important to pay attention to the role of the smaller and seemingly less dangerous second loans, because in many cases they were the real culprits that pushed families out their homes and sent many homeowners into bankruptcy.

There are two main explanations for this phenomenon. On the one hand, millions of homeowners got into deep financial difficulty because they took advantage of easy-to-use second loans to siphon away their valuable equity. Banks were eager to lend money based on the market value of homes that were gaining value year after year in a heated bull market. Homeowners were equally enthusiastic to tap into their equity and use the money they borrowed through their second mortgages to do home improvements. We experienced the era when it was really common for someone with a $250,000 home, for example, to remodel it and put in an upgraded kitchen that cost $100,000. Normally there is absolutely no justification for spending nearly half of what a house is worth on that kind of project. But people wanted fancy kitchens, and they rationalized their plans by believing that adding $100,000 to a $250,000 home would cause it to go up in value and suddenly be worth $350,000 or more. Sometimes it worked out that way, too, as buyers getting easy credit from banks forked over higher amounts of money to buy homes that they, too, thought they could flip for a fast profit at an even higher and more exorbitant price.

But what was even crazier is that homeowners often used their home equity loans to buy things that had no possibility of enhancing their home’s quality of life or property value. They used homes as ATM machines to finance meals in nice restaurants, buying sprees at the mall, sports cars, and vacation homes. So when the bull market madness ended and prices began to fall, homeowners with no equity left found themselves drowning in debt. They couldn’t pay their first mortgages and they couldn’t sell their houses for enough money to pay off all their outstanding loans.

But the loans that sapped the value out of their homes were those convenient home equity loans, the dangerous second mortgages.
The other big reason to be wary of how second mortgages are managed has to do with the investors behind them. Many homeowners could have refinanced out of their toxic first mortgages and avoided foreclosure, but the investors who were owed money on second mortgages demanded to have those paid off first. When homeowners could not scrape up enough cash to satisfy those pesky home equity loans, they were stuck. Unable to pay off second loans they could not rework their troublesome first mortgages, and they feel deeper into financial trouble with no solutions.

The bottom line is that we need to treat second mortgages with respect. They suck the equity from homes, and they can lead to catastrophe unless they are used prudently and responsibly. If we learn nothing else from the housing crisis, we need to learn that home equity loans – even though they seem easy and small – can be just as powerful as larger primary mortgages.

Homeowner Tips: Get the most efficiency from refrigerators

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 12:20 pm

During wintertime we rarely think too much about refrigeration, because nature is doing enough of that outdoors. But we do tend to worry about the rising cost of energy to heat and light a home over a cold, dark season. Most homeowners also want to contribute to a more sustainable environment by doing their part to reduce their home’s carbon footprint, and conserving energy plays a huge role in that.

So it is important to know that the refrigerator in your home is an appliance that tends to be overlooked when it comes to energy conservation potential. But if you follow a few simple steps you can boost the efficiency of your fridge, reduce the amount of electricity that it consumes, and simultaneously shave a little money off of your monthly electricity bill by reducing your carbon footprint.

Coils underneath or behind a refrigerator act like dust bunny magnets. They get clogged with all the kitchen dust, crumbs, pet fur, and other debris that might find its way underneath your fridge. As you can imagine, it soon becomes not a very pretty picture – especially considering that this grunge is accumulating in the room where you prepare all your meals. But the main reason to get down there and clean off those refrigerator coils is that once the coils get covered up and blocked, it will be much harder for the appliance to generate cold temperatures inside. The airflow is blocked and the fridge has to work harder while generating subpar performance. While its lifespan shrinks due to the extra load it’s forced to carry, it also uses up more electricity while doing a lousy job of keeping your perishables cold.

The good news, of course, is that if you will just take a few minutes to clean off the coils your fridge will immediately start to work more efficiently and effectively. Cleaning significantly improves the energy consumption and cooling capacity, according to one of the head scientists who works in the area of refrigerator technology for Whirlpool.

Cleaning is not an ordeal, either, especially if you do it every six months. Just use a refrigerator coil brush you can buy for about $10 at a home improvement store and wipe the coils clean. But please note that if you have a newer model fridge, your coils may be enclosed. In that case you can’t see them – but the dust and grime cannot get to them either. So if you have that kind of appliance then you do not need to ever worry about cleaning your coils. The task is unnecessary on those more modern fridges.

Another trick most people don’t know about is that the freezer compartment of your fridge works better if you have more stuff in the compartment. You don’t want to block the fan by covering it over, but otherwise it is a good idea to fill the space around it instead of leaving it partially empty. So if you don’t have a lot of items in the freezer, you can fill up the empty gaps and cavities with bags of ice or frozen vegetables.

If your fridge is getting old, that can put the most strain on your energy consumption and costs. Older models – especially those that do not have an Energy Star rating – drain lots of juice. In fact, if your appliance is really past its prime then you may notice that when the compressor kicks in and turns on as it cycles every once in a while, the lights in your kitchen dim for a second or two. That’s not a good sign, and could even indicate a hazard within your electrical system. You should seriously consider upgrading to a new unit due to not only energy costs but also your own safety. Yes, it will cost you to buy a new one. But once you factor in the savings that the new one will help generate the cost of purchasing it is much easier to justify.

Homeowner Safety: Laundry lint can be hazardous.

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 12:19 pm

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that more than 15,000 clothes dryer fires accidentally erupt each year. All of these preventable fires damage – and oftentimes destroy – homes. Unfortunately many of them also tragically lead to serious injury or loss of life.

The primary culprit in all of these fires is fabric lint that gets caught in the dryer vent, the dryer door, or inside the lint screen that helps to filter away the fluffy particles each time you dry a load of laundry.

If you happen to do a lot camping, or if you have read books about wilderness survival, you may already be aware of how flammable ordinary lint can be. That’s because people who find themselves out in the woods with no dry fuel to make a fire can take advantage of a technique that is known to outdoors enthusiasts, military Special Forces troops, and others who happen to be well-versed in emergency survival skills. They know that if you simply pick the lint out of your pockets and make it into a little ball it is possible to use it for fuel to start a fire under adverse conditions. Strike sparks from a piece of flint and aim them at the pile of lint, or focus the rays of the sun through a magnifying glass and direct that little solar laser beam at the lint, and it will quickly burst into flames.

The reason for mentioning that survival tactic is not to help you on your next camping trip, though, but to point out just how dangerous accumulated lint can be when it comes in contact with the hot metal interior of your clothes dryer. You have probably felt how much heat a dryer creates if you have ever placed your hand against the inside of the dryer wall after drying a load of clothes. It is oftentimes too hot to touch. Now imagine how easily it would be for an overheated dryer to spontaneously ignite dry, fluffy lint that has built up inside that machine or its vents.

If clothes seem to take much too long to dry or the dryer is hot to the touch, that is often a sign that the vent is clogged by lint. Since the airflow is impeded the efficiency of the dryer is compromised. So cleaning out the vent on a regular basis not only helps you avoid a fire hazard but it also saves on your energy bill, cuts down on how long it takes to dry your clothes, and helps to prolong the life and smooth operation of your appliance.

Clean the removable lint screen each and every time you do a load of laundry. Then, at least once or twice a year or whenever you suspect that the dryer vent may be filled with lint, unplug the dryer and pull it away from the wall. Uncouple the flexible hose connecting it to the wall.
Use a vent-cleaning rod or brush, pushing and pulling it to clean out the vent. Then go outside, unscrew the grill on the outer wall, and clean that end of the vent pipe opening until it is clear of lint. Replace the dryer, plug it in, and enjoy a more efficient and safer appliance.