March 16, 2012

How to Select and Hire a Qualified Home Inspector

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 2:07 pm

There are many times when a homeowner or home buyer can benefit from the expertise of a professional home inspector, and there are some practical steps you can take to help find a good inspector, interview them, and hire them.

Narrow the Field
First, decide what type of inspector you need. There are some home inspectors who specialize in environmental issues, for instance, whereas others have special skills and training in doing energy audits. Some focus on pests like termites and carpenter ants, whereas others primarily conduct buyer-ordered inspections for those who are about to buy a home and need a general report regarding the home’s mechanical and structural condition. Narrow down your search parameters and then it will be much easier to find the inspector who can serve your needs the best.

Solicit Referrals
Then you can get started soliciting recommendations from trusted friends or from other professionals with whom you have a good working relationship. Many of the affiliated members of the National Association of Realtors aren’t real estate agents but are professionals who offer services related to the real estate industry. So within the ranks of those kinds of affiliated members you are likely to find some excellent home inspectors and home inspection companies. Your Realtor or house painter, for example, might be a good source of recommendations or leads. You can also use the phone book or get a list of inspectors or Google professional home inspectors to find out which ones operate in your area. Almost anyone who works as a professional contractor in the residential housing market will also know local inspectors, so they are another good source of leads, as are mortgage brokers and building appraisers.

Check their Credentials
Regardless of how you find potential inspectors, it is important for you to evaluate each one based on their professional credentials, certifications, customer testimonials, references, and track record within the business community. If there are licensing requirements for home inspectors in the state where you live, for example, you will want to verify those before hiring your inspector. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau and with any professional inspection trade organizations that operate in your jurisdiction.

Interview Local Inspectors
After developing a short list of inspectors you can get down to brass tacks by interviewing them on the phone, by email, or in person. You can ask how much they charge-but that is not nearly the most important factor, find out what kind of structures they have the most experience inspecting. You may find that there is one inspector who mostly inspects brand new construction, for example, whereas another one spends most of the time reporting on vintage homes that are very old. So depending upon what the age of your own home happens to be you can choose between the two.

Review a Sample of Their Home Inspection Report
As a consumer shopping around for an inspector you may also want to review the various inspection report formats and figure out which one appeals to you the best based on how you prefer to absorb information. Some report formats rely heavily on checklists while other formats are more essay-driven and deliver the information in paragraphs you will be able to sit down and read. Then there are inspectors who offer a hybrid, using both styles and incorporating both styles with a combination of checklists and written narratives – plus extensive pictures to illustrate their findings. Don’t be afraid to ask whether your inspector can provide you with the particular kind of report you like. Many inspectors have software that allows them to adjust the format of the report to suit your preferences, with just a few clicks of their computer mouse. Reviewing their report is not an insignificant consideration, a rule of thumb, a “crappy” report probably means a “crappy” inspection.

“Stage” Real Estate to Make it Look Like a Model Home

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 2:00 pm

One reason that homes don’t sell as fast, or for higher prices, is that they don’t look their best. Just as you should wash and wax a used car before selling it, you need to spruce up a property to make it show well and have the greatest positive impact on a potential buyer. This is especially challenging when you are trying to sell a vacant home, which is the situation many people find themselves in this time of year. Nothing kills sales appeal like a cold, empty house that lacks coziness and warmth. Or you may be trying to market a home that is occupied but looks way too lived-in, cluttered, and outdated because of how it is furnished and kept. Both extremes are liabilities if you want to attract buyers, which is why many Realtors and home sellers rely on “staging” to improve a home’s marketability and visual appeal.

Staging professionals are essentially interior decorators, but most of them also have background experience in the real estate business. Their expertise is that they know how to visually make the most of what is available to them in a house in order to make it look its very best when potential buyers tour the home. These are the experts who are hired to help new home builders set up their model homes, for example, to make those houses look like a million bucks. If vacuuming your house and making the beds is comparable to running your car through a car wash before showing it to a used car buyer, for example, then staging a home is like getting the car professionally detailed, inside and out, so that even the engine parts look so clean you could eat off of them.

The ideal candidate for a staging company is a seller whose property is vacant feels stark and uninviting. Sometimes people relocate in a hurry, taking all their furnishings with them, and a staging company can come along behind and recreate the ambience of home, sweet home. Other good candidates are sellers whose homes have outdated furnishings and too much clutter. A stager can arrange to remove unflattering furniture and accessories and have that stuff put in storage, and then they’ll come in and redecorate using their own furniture and design ideas.

You can find staging companies by doing an Internet search or looking in the yellow pages, and you’ll find that most of them charge fees based on how many rooms or square feet your property has – kind of the same way that cleaning services calculate their charges. They will visit the property and consult with you to figure out exactly what kinds of furnishings are required to get the job done as well as how long you need to keep the property staged. Prices for staging typically start at as little as $200 or $300 dollars for smaller homes, although they can go much higher depending upon the property’s size and other logistics. But generally speaking the investment in staging does pays off with a faster sale at a higher price, and that usually means that the staging pays for itself. Some Realtors are so confident in the value-added benefits of staging that they will even help absorb the cost of the staging for their clients.

A good staging company will provide secure storage of your furniture, or will encourage you to pack it and store it yourself – then bring in designer furnishings to fit the style of your home. If your house is in the historic part of town, for instance, they may choose to use replicas of antiques from that period. If you live in a sleek condo in a modern building, on the other hand, they might select a line of minimalist furniture in chrome or bamboo and pair it with modern artwork. The best stagers will also incorporate details like houseplants and table settings, so that the home looks like you could walk in and start living there right away. When potential sellers are able to begin seeing themselves living in a house then they move much closer to signing a purchase offer, so staging provides powerful marketing psychology.

Homeowner Help: Get Better R-Value for Energy Savings

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 1:58 pm

Improving your home’s energy efficiency – especially during the wintertime when it can be so expensive to heat a home – really comes down to the process of raising its insulation value. Insulation that is just one inch thick, for instance, typically delivers the same amount of insulation value as you would get from a 30-inch wall of concrete.

What is R-Value All About?
The construction industry measures insulation capability as so-called “R-Value.” The “R” stands for resistance, and what is being calibrated is resistance to the flow of heat. The ability to resist this loss of heat is based on what kinds of materials are used, how thick the materials are, and how dense they happen to be. But testing to determine R-Value is done to specific standards. So no matter what type of insulation you use, or how thick or thin the insulation may be, if the R-Value printed on the two kinds of insulation you are comparing, then they have the same insulation capability and you should consider them virtually interchangeable.

When calculating the value of more than one layer of installation, you should add the R-Values of the individual layers – so the more insulation you have in your home the greater will be the home’s resistance to heat flow. But R-Value will drop when there are air leaks or the presence of moisture, so it is important to seal and caulk – or do whatever else is necessary to ensure a stable situation with no unintended energy leaks. Insulate garage doors, for example, the space between basement ceilings and your first floor, and places like electrical outlet boxes that may be small voids with no insulation.

Insulate Adequately throughout Your Home
Typically, R-Value should be increased as you got higher up in your home, so that the insulation in a cathedral ceiling or attic, for example, might be nearly twice as high as what is found the floors and walls of floors down below. The average recommended R value for basement insulation in the USA, for example, is R-12. Meanwhile most attics should be insulated to at least R-38, or approximately 10-15 inches worth of insulation thickness – but in colder climates you may want to go as high R-60.
Usually when you shop for insulation you will find charts or colored maps of the USA, that are filled in with data to help you determine what kind of insulation to get for which part of your home or which application you have in mind. To learn more about R-Value, how to preserve energy in your home, and what kind of insulation techniques and products might work best for you, ask the experts at your local home improvement center or visit the website for the U.S. Department of Energy (www.eere.energy.gov).

When to Consult a Specialized Professional
But the best way to approach this kind of project, especially if you have never had a professional energy audit done, is to hire a building inspector who knows how to perform high-tech energy audits. The price of having an audit done will often we repaid in energy savings, or lower utility bills, within a year – or as quickly as within just one winter season.

Be aware that if there is vermiculite insulation in your attic you may have a more serious problem lurking. Here is a statement issued by the Environmental Protection Agency’s website to help you understand the potential danger of vermiculite insulation: “Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral composed of shiny flakes, resembling mica. When heated to a high temperature, flakes of vermiculite expand as much as 8-30 times their original size. The expanded vermiculite is a light-weight, fire-resistant, and odorless material and has been used in numerous products, including insulation for attics and walls. Sizes of vermiculite products range from very fine particles to large (coarse) pieces nearly an inch long. A mine near Libby, Montana, was the source of over 70 percent of all vermiculite sold in the U.S. from 1919 to 1990. There was also a deposit of asbestos at that mine, so the vermiculite from Libby was contaminated with asbestos. Vermiculite from Libby was used in the majority of vermiculite insulation in the U.S. and was often sold under the brand name Zonolite. If you have vermiculite insulation in your home, you should assume this material may be contaminated with asbestos and be aware of steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from exposure to asbestos.”That means that if you see material in your attic (or elsewhere in the home) that resembles this description, you should immediately notify an environmental inspector who can test the materials and the atmosphere in your home and help you stay safe.

Space-Saving Ideas for Homeowners

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 1:57 pm

All of us like the idea of owning a bigger home, but that is not always a viable or affordable options. But there are others ways to free up the room we need and make a home feel more spacious. Sometimes all you need to do to add some needed square footage to your house is to save a little more space, and one of the best ways to do that is to take advantage of products that are specially designed for that purpose.

Replacing a space-gobbling bed in a guest room, for example, with a traditional Murphy bed can free up lots of space and give you the flexibility of using guest bedrooms for other purposes. Because a Murphy bed folds up into the wall, when you do not need the extra bed you have lots of free and clear floor space that you can use as a kid’s playroom, a closet, or an office. Futons also work well for the kind of purpose, although the Murphy style bed is the classic first choice if you main goal is saving space.

Hidden Television Company, meanwhile, takes the idea of a flat screen television to a whole different level with an innovative high-tech mirror that mounts right in front of the TV screen. Mirrors in a room always add the illusion of extra space, so they make a smaller room look longer or deeper. But using one of the Hidden Television gadgets goes one step farther. It transforms the front surface of the TV into a mirror, so while it adds the optical illusion of more spaciousness it also effectively camouflages and hides your television. Now you see it; now you don’t happens with the click of a button to reveal the TV screen when you turn on your television and make it vanish and become a mirror when you turn your TV off again.

There are new kinds of Murphy beds, too, that put a 21st century twist on the old-fashioned classic piece of furniture. The company Off the Wall Beds, for example, offers several interesting multipurpose designs that can transform your stored bed into a functional bookshelf. Fold back the middle compartments of the shelving unit and a queen bed pulls down. If you want a home office that converts to a bedroom, buy a wooden desk that flips open to become a bed. You don’t even have to clear your workspace to complete the transformation. The Julia West Home company, for instance, makes a coffee table that has a top that opens up to reveal a desk with plenty of storage inside. Or you can buy pieces like the Jofran Cocktail Table from World Furniture Mall, which comes with two ottomans that fit underneath it to save room. But these ottomans also open up to give you some added storage space, so they do double duty to free up square footage and deliver room for you to stash your gear.

If you need extra seating but don’t have room for a regular sized sofa, a love seat is a smart alternative. But even better is the Futab, a table from designer Akemi Tanaka, which transforms into a love seat. Or you can choose the Tagei table that converts into a bench. You can also find a variety of different kinds of kitchen islands – including portable ones that wheel out to the deck or patio – that have built-in storage drawers and shelves.
But one of the best ways to free up some storage is to use products like those made by Rev-A-Shelf. The company makes an entire line of pullout pantries that can be installed like slender pocket doors in spaces from 10 to 20 inches wide. They are six or seven feet tall, and slip into those gaps alongside refrigerators, walls, or cabinets to turn unused space into real storage. Pull on them and they roll out of hiding to offer generous shelf space for kitchen or cleaning items.

You can also do a really simple thing that most homeowners overlook. It is really inexpensive and easy to utilize space up high that is normally neglected. Placing an extra row of cabinets atop existing kitchen cabinetry, mounting out-of-the-way storages on the walls of your garage, or putting up high shelves on blank walls can often solve storage problems. That frees up space elsewhere, and the end result is that you clear clutter down below – where it makes a home look and feel more spacious.

Safety Tips: Dealing with ice on the roof and in the gutters.

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 1:55 pm

During a cold winter, heavy ice on rooftops and in gutters can cause a lot of damage to a home. As ice collects up above it also creates icicles, too, which can be extremely dangerous. Some icicles are very heavy, and the bigger they are the harder they fall. Ice crashing down from high atop your house can cause serious injury and even death, and can also scatter ice across walkways and porches and cause slipping and falling hazards.

The way to effectively deal with annoyances like icicles, however, is not to treat the symptoms but to get to the root of the problem. When icicles form on the eaves and gutters, for example, knocking them off with a broomstick is just putting a bandage on the bigger issue that causes ice to form on the roof in the first place. The key is to maintain proper insulation of your home – which will also keep your home more comfortable and reduce your heating expenses.

In poorly insulated homes, warm air escapes through the ceiling and goes up into the attic. Unless there is a proper ventilation system in the attic, this warmed air gets trapped against the underside of the roof, and that causes any accumulated snow on top of the roof to start melting. That melting snow trickles along the slope of the roof until it finds a colder spot – usually the gutters or the metal flashing around a vent pipe – and then it freezes up again. The more this happens, the more the patch of ice grows, until you have huge icicles or slabs of ice precariously positioned atop your roof.
Of course the melting and flowing of water doesn’t stop, so if a big block of ice forms the snowmelt will naturally seek another place to drain into, following gravity. That’s when the really major trouble starts, because normally that water runoff with hit a patch of thick ice – referred to as an ice dam – and then it will be forced back, flowing up under a loose shingle or the curled edge of some roof flashing. The next thing you know you have snowmelt invading your ceilings and walls where it can cause catastrophic damage to your home. Rooftop ice can also cause all sorts of damage outside the home, because when water freezes, it expands and pushes apart various structures, including gutters, soffits, and roof shingles.

To remedy this kind of situation and prevent ice dams on your roof, you want to ensure that the underside of your roof remains consistently cold. You have to prevent warm air from seeping up through your house, into your attic, and against the bottom of the roof. To accomplish this and also make sure that warmth stays down inside the rooms of your home to save energy, insulate the floor of your attic. Be sure that all gaps between sections of insulation are filled, that heating ductwork is located as far away from the roof as possible, and that crevices and gaps are caulked or otherwise sealed and insulated around such things as light fixtures, electrical wiring channels, chimneys, and bathroom fans. Ducts that transfer warm air out of your house on purpose from appliances like clothes dryers should vent through the walls or a roof vent pipe, but not through the soffits where that warmth will melt snow on the roof.

It is also a good idea to create intentional ventilation in the attic through a ridge vent or other strategy. That way when warm air does get into the attic it will be able to escape, keeping your attic cold in winter so that the roof stays cold and snow does not melt, refreeze, and then melt and freeze again to form dams and icicles. You only want snow to melt off the roof naturally, when the weather warms up, and not when the weather is still freezing cold and artificially warmed snow flows as snowmelt to somewhere else and then freezes again, making trouble for you.