April 6, 2012

Real Estate Sales Info: Generate springtime curb appeal for faster sales, without investing a lot of time or money.

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 11:02 am

Real estate sales have been on the upswing for a while now, fueled by exceptionally low interest rates and renewed buyer confidence. The excess that was built into real estate pricing during the go-go days has been effectively wrung out, providing a stable market and many ready and willing buyers who believe that now they can get a great home at a reasonable price. The trick now for home sellers is to price their property at a realistic level while also competing with other sellers by adding value through such things as cosmetic curb appeal.
Here are some simple but highly effective ideas to help you add visual equity and market appeal without breaking the bank or straining your back from too many days of work:

• Survey the property from the curb, making a list of what needs to be fixed. That includes brown patches in the lawn, clutter at the end of the driveway, neglected bushes along the side yard – or that gutter pipe sprouting a miniature tree nursery because it needs a long-overdue cleaning.

• A coat of new paint or varnish on the door doesn’t cost much, but it can dress up your home and make it look like a million bucks. Replace old, warped garage doors and paint or replace faded mailboxes. Adding new hardware to the front door is also a great upgrade that’s not expensive.

• Be sure the outdoor light fixtures are functioning properly, and tighten any loose handrails while policing the walkways to stabilize any bumpy spots, missing paving stones, or other potential toe-stubbing or tripping hazards.

• Are there are curling or missing roof shingles? Those need to be repaired or replaced because buyers will view them as clues that the house in need of major, costly repairs. They won’t even get past the exterior in order to see the rest of the house.

• Put a crisp, fresh edge along the borders of walkways and flower beds, cutting in the edge with a shovel and then following up with fresh mulch. Or you can buy inexpensive plastic or wooden edging and install it after first trimming back the grass and eliminating the weeds. This gives the yard a manicured and landscaped look.
Before each showing appointment you should open the curtains and arrange for everyone to leave the house for a half hour or so. Buyers feel uncomfortable touring a home when the owners are home, so take the pets for a walk or do your grocery shopping. You don’t want a potential buyer to feel like they are intruding, because the goal is to get them to start seeing your house as their new home. The way to accomplish that is to remove telltale signs that it is somebody else’s home, so they can begin to imagine it as their own – which is the key to closing a sale. Do that by leaving the kitchen and bathrooms clean and free of clutter and making the beds. You should also always put away any valuables like jewelry, purses, and laptops in a safe and secure place. After all you are inviting strangers into your home. Your Realtor will screen them beforehand, of course, but you still shouldn’t tempt anyone to steal by leaving valuables in conspicuous places.

Homeowner Tips: A springtime maintenance checklist.

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 11:01 am

Continual freezing and thawing forces water into the pores of concrete and brick, and each time the water turns to ice it expands, creating a natural wedge that pushes against the masonry. This can weaken brickwork, cause mortar joints between bricks, blocks, and stones to crumble and deteriorate, and it can create large uneven cracks in driveways, slabs, and sidewalks. So one of the most important home maintenance items to be aware of after a long cold winter is cracks and breaks in masonry.

Crumbling mortar is easy enough to spot, because you’ll see gaps between bricks. But another good test is to lightly rake across a few randomly chosen joints with the blunt tip of a screwdriver. If the mortar easily crumbles out like sand pouring through an hourglass, then it needs to be replaced because it has lost its structural integrity. Soon entire bricks will be coming loose and insects will be moving into the vacant spaces. If lots of joints need to be repaired or “pointed-up” as masonry contractors call this kind of job, it is best that you hire a professional. After all, those joints may be your last line of resistance before the structure begins to fall apart.

But if there are only some small gaps, chips, or voids, you can fix that yourself by purchasing a tube of mortar repair caulk at the local home improvement store. The tube looks like the ones that ordinary caulk comes in, and it will fit into a conventional caulk gun. Application is essentially the same too, so the big difference between masonry caulk and other kinds of caulk is that the masonry version contains materials that are compatible with brick and stone. These are usually various blends of polymers or epoxies, and the caulk resembles gray tile grout – so that it is not unsightly when applied between existing bricks or blocks. But be sure that you verify with a resourceful clerk at the hardware store that the product you are buying is intended for use as a joint filling compound to point-up brickwork. Using the wrong material could simply make matters worse.

Small driveway cracks will soon sprout grass and weeks, so tackle them early by using the same kind of masonry repair product from a home improvement store like Lowe’s or Home Depot. Follow the instructions, be sure to apply according to the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding the outdoor temperature and the curing time, and don’t make the mistake of scheduling this DIY job if the weather forecast calls for rain. If you already have weeds and grass growing, pull them or spray them with herbicide and after they die back you can do the repair. A good tool for cleaning out the crack before refilling it is a putty knife or an old hacksaw blade. Sometimes you can also use a shop vacuum – or a portable handheld vacuum – to clear out small pebbles or other debris in the cracks. To help prolong the life of the crack repair, use a good quality all-weather sealer on top of it.

On the other hand, if you have actual potholes to contend with, those can also be pretty easily remedied by using a pothole filler or patch kit. These are also available at home improvement stores, and they usually contain a fast-drying cement or tar that can be plopped into the hole and smoothed over with a trowel for an instant fix. Some states even ask their highway patrolmen to carry these instant pothole repair kits in the trunks of their cars because it is possible to fill a dangerous pothole in a matter of minutes with no special tools or training.

One area that deserves special attention from a building inspector, however, is cracks that appear along foundations or brick walls. These can indicate that your home is settling, which can lead to serious structural damage. Oftentimes telltale cracks appear at the corners of window and door frames, for example, and if you see these it is a good idea to consult an inspector.

Homeowner Tips: How anyone can grow a garden.

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 11:00 am

This time of year is ideal for planting your own garden, but unfortunately there are many homeowners who will not do so because of the simple reason that they lack the confidence. Maybe you have no experience with gardening, and your houseplants often die on you without warning, so when it comes to having a green thumb you’re one of the people who feel that they are inept. But just because you don’t have a great track record with plants, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the pleasure of growing your own flowers, vegetables, or culinary herbs this year.
So here are some helpful tips to enable you to minimize the stress and maintenance while maximizing your green thumb success.

• Select Compatible Plants

One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced gardeners make is that they try to make plants fit into their own agenda and location preferences, rather than letting the plants themselves guide that decision-making process. You need to see what you have to work with and then seek out plants that will adapt in a healthy way to that environment, which is not so difficult to do. But avoid the tendency to come up with an idea of what kind of plants you want – and then expect them to do well despite the inhospitable conditions you force upon them.

• Pick the Best Spot

Growing orchids outdoors in Alaska stacks the odds against you, and trying to cultivate corn or tomatoes in the shade is contrary to nature. So instead of trying to put a square peg through a round hole, accept the fact that you need to try to grow plants that are accustomed to the soil, number of hours of sunlight, and climate that you have available to you to use. Calculate the average number of hours of available sunlight. With six hours of strong sun it is possible to grow everything from tomatoes to sunflowers. But even in shady areas you can still grow attractive plants like Hostas.

• Potted Patio Gardens are Easy

Potted plants work really well for those wanting to grow on a condo balcony or a patio – or if you just don’t want the hassle of digging in an actual garden out in the yard. Put the pots on casters or on a rolling circular dolly if they are heavy, to make moving them easier. Bush tomatoes, especially grape and cherry varieties, make wonderful container plants. You can stake them as they grow larger to keep them from sagging, or you can place a tomato basket or cage over the pot and they’ll grow upright by climbing it. You can even plant them upside down and have them grow like hanging baskets.

• Window Boxes Add European Charm

Window boxes are a great way to capture sun and add charm to your home, and hanging plants are an ideal choice for decks, balconies, and places where floor space is scarce. Perhaps the best way to utilize a window box is for the cultivation of culinary herbs such as basil, parsley, chives, thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary, or sage. These can all thrive in a sunny window box, and may cooks place these containers outside a kitchen window, where fresh herbs will be within arm’s reach for harvesting.
Other excellent container plants include hot peppers and leafy greens such as lettuce, arugula, and winter kale. Believe it or not, potatoes are one of the easiest and most impressive plants to grow in a pot or hanging basket in a sunny kitchen window or balcony, because they produce verdant, leafy vines that grow quickly with little maintenance. Let the spud or sweet potato grow “eyes” and once they have sprouted to about half an inch or more in length, cover them in dirt. Continue to water so that the soil stays semi-moist, and within a week or two shoots will begin to climb out of the dirt. Within weeks a vine will start, and can be trellised or draped.

For Added Safety and Security Check Your Washing Machine Hoses

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 10:59 am

Springtime has returned and most households are buzzing with activity after a long period of dormancy. There are kids running and playing outdoors, gardens and flower beds are being put in, the grass is green and will soon need to be mowed, and there are lots of weekend chores to do. Some of those projects around the home can have a big impact on your safety and security, too, and it is possible to make do-it-yourself improvements, without spending much money, that will deliver invaluable peace of mind.

A good place to start is with your washing machine, because according to the State Farm insurance company, American homes receive about $170 million in damages thanks to faulty washing machine hoses. That’s an awful lot of accidental flooding, and most of it can be easily prevented if homeowners would simply do routine checks to make sure that the hoses are not kinked, brittle, or otherwise damaged or worn-out.

• Make sure that all of the connections are secure and tight, first of all, because as washers agitate – especially older ones that tend to shake and rock – that movement can loosen fitting over time. If the hose pops loose then the only place for the incoming or draining water to go is inside your laundry room where it can do extensive damage to walls, floors, and anything else in its path.

• There also needs to be sufficient space for the housing to reside comfortably between the appliance and the wall, otherwise hoses can get cramped and kinked. There should be at least 4-6 inches of clearance between the machine and any water connections so that if the appliance is inadvertently bumped it still won’t collapse the hose.

• Some homeowners are overconfident when it comes to their water line connections, because they believe that the higher-end, premium quality washing machine hoses won’t bind, kind, or rupture. But experts tell us that even the so-called burst-resistant or burst-proof hoses and the ones made of strong stainless-steel hoses can and do sometimes break. That’s usually thanks to the weakest link in the water supply chain, which is the coupling – although cracks and leaks may also appear anyplace the hose connects to an appliance or water line.

Hoses will, however, do what they are intended to do, so there is no need to lose sleep worrying about a flood just because you run your washer. All you need to do is to check for cracks, loose fittings, and space considerations about once or twice a year. Your hoses will handle the rest of the responsibility, for about five years. After that time even a great piece of hose pipe will be living on borrowed time, so as a preemptive measure you should then replace it with one that is made out of braided stainless steel. You’ll only have to spend about $25 for a 2-pack of hose, and it’s an easy DIY job that just takes a few minutes to perform with simple tools like a screwdriver and pliers. But in return you’ll get added performance and security that could protect you from thousands of dollars in unwanted accidental damage to your home.