July 5, 2012

Real Estate Education: Why seller disclosure matters to both buyers and sellers.

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 1:06 pm

Seller disclosure basically means sharing of information by the seller of a property. The idea is that disclosure should be made if the seller is aware of anything that might significantly alter the perception of value – or change the mind of the buyer and convince them to rethink the purchase. Most of us think of this kind of thing as being a moral or ethical choice.

The History of Disclosure Forms

If you are a straightforward and honest seller, for example, then you would naturally want to let the buyer know of any serious issues or problems with your home before they buy it. In fact, that sentiment or code of conduct to “do the right thing” on the part of the seller is what today’s official printed disclosure forms are all about. That’s because pretty much all of the laws and rules that we make and accept as citizens of a shared democratic community are rooted in a common understanding of ethics, justice, and fairness. That’s why we sometimes hear people, especially legal scholars, refer to the “letter of the law” as it relates and ties into the “spirit of the law.” In other ones the laws as they are written are there because before they became encoded into our body of laws and legal documents they were born out of a spirit of justice and a feeling of right versus wrong.

Why We Require Standardized Forms

Of course when large amounts of money are at stake – as they are whenever a piece of real estate changes hands – there can be the temptation to be a little loose with our ethical interpretations. In fact, some people will put aside their ethics or rearrange them in order to accommodate strategies and business dealings that are downright greedy. Some people will behave in a fashion that is totally and intentionally misleading in order to save or make some money.

Whether we like it or not, that’s just a fact of life. So to protect the consumer from being misled or hoodwinked when making a home purchase – so that they don’t wind up buying a pig in a poke or a lemon of a house that was described as a real creampuff by the seller – we have official seller disclosure forms. They are not legal documents in and of themselves, but they do provide solid legal evidence of information that is either shared or knowingly withheld by a home owner who is selling their property.

Almost every jurisdiction has forms that can be provided by a Realtor. In the USA, for example, every state requires real estate brokers to use certain disclosure forms. The same goes for Provinces across Canada. But interestingly enough, most consumers believe that these disclosures are only used to help protect buyers from buying property without enough information. The truth is, though, that disclosure is beneficial to all involved parties, including buyers, sellers, and real estate agents.

Disclosure Documents Overview

Essentially these are forms printed in duplicate or triplicate so that they can be signed and copies can be retained by multiple parties. Each seller disclosure document spells out the details of a particular issue that could represent a potential issue for a buyer.

As an example, a form may relate to lead-based paint which is known to be toxic, especially for young children who may accidentally ingest it if it is present within a home. So a buyer may request a seller disclosure statement and this will state whether or not the seller has any knowledge of the presence of lead-based paint on their property. Both the buyer and seller sign the document.

Later, if such paint is discovered, the buyer has a signed piece of paper where the seller claimed that they knew nothing about it – if that’s how they filled out the form. If it is found that the seller misrepresented their knowledge and intentionally misled the buyer, this form gives the seller’s claim for damages extra legal clout.

But if the seller didn’t know about the lead-based paint and said so on the form, the disclosure can protect them from liability. For them it shows proof that they told the buyer what they knew, and that to the best of their knowledge there wasn’t any paint. Or if the seller was aware of the paint and disclosed that fact, but the buyer proceeded with the purchase, then it is obvious that the responsibility lies with the well-informed buyer who went ahead and bought despite the disclosure.

What Kinds of Issues They Address

There are official, standard kinds of disclosure forms to cover almost everything you can imagine that might detract from the material value of a home and create a liability. Forms cover such things as previous floods or fires in the home, the presence of toxic mold or other environmental hazards, zoning or homeowner’s association regulations, and extreme noise pollution like homes in the path of an airport.

The bottom line is this: whether you are the buyer, the seller, or the Realtor involved in a real estate transactions, formal disclosure is your friend. Obtain the disclosure forms you believe you need, have the sellers sign off on them and the buyer acknowledge receipt in writing, and then look forward to a smoother and less stressful closing. After closing, save copies of the disclosure forms in a safe place along with your other real estate documents, just in case you need them at a later date.

July Safety Tips for Homeowners

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 1:05 pm

You don’t want to run the risk of spoiling the fun during one of the best months of the year to be outdoors enjoying the sunshine and recreation. Whether you are entertaining, doing home maintenance chores, or catching up on a landscaping or remodeling project, you never want to endanger your health. So here are some helpful tips for playing it safe while you are your family make the most of July.

Hydrate
Even well-toned and conditioned marathon athletes can overexert themselves, so no matter how much confidence you have your fitness and endurance, don’t forget to hydrate. One of the biggest reasons for emergency room visits this time is year is because people outdoors do not drink enough water. Keep in mind that not all fluids count the same toward hydrating your body, either. So if you are substituting beer for water it doesn’t really count, not matter how good it might taste or feel. Adults and children both need plenty of clean, fresh water all day long.

Keep Cool
Sun exposure is another one that can lead to a hospital visit, because heat stroke is potentially deadly and can happen to anyone if they are exposed to the heat for too long. Use a wide-brimmed straw hat or baseball cap, the recommended UV protection sunscreen, and take regular breaks to stand in the shade, step inside and cool down, and help yourself to some cool water.

Dress for Work, Not Play, When Working
Also don’t shed the protective gear just because it’s hot outside. Dust masks, work gloves, safety glasses, hard hats, long sleeved shirts, long pants, and sturdy footwear may not be all that comfortable but they can save you from injury. Remember, getting hurt on the job may involve days or even years of discomfort if you get seriously hurt – compared to the relatively brief discomfort you experience by wearing appropriate safety attire.

Don’t Do Two Person Jobs Alone
Some rules apply all year ‘round, and this tops this list in terms of safety. When you use a ladder, lift a heavy object, work with electricity, or start tinkering around on the roof to patch a leak, you need to have a work partner. Just as Forest Rangers recommend that nobody go hiking out into the woods alone, professional contractors will also tell you that lots of DIY home maintenance and repair jobs should be done with an assistant. Otherwise you can quadruple your chances of getting injured, so remember to double-up if it is a 2-person job.

Poisonous Snakes and Insects
In wintertime we don’t have to think too much about snakes and insects, but they come out in droves for summertime. Even a rather minor bee sting can lead to catastrophic consequences if you are one of the millions of homeowners who are allergic to bee stings. Then there are a host of other creatures that bite and sting, including brown recluse and black widow spiders, yellow jackets, copperheads, and rattlesnakes.

Baby vipers like copperheads are oftentimes just as venomous as large snakes, too, and they lurk in tiny crevices and hiding places. Wear thick work gloves and probe with a long-handled tool like a rake before reaching into unknown territory like the woodpile or stacked-stone wall. Always have a cell phone nearby in case you need to call for medical help in an emergency, and stay alert – especially when you are wearing earplugs to protect your hearing that may compromise your awareness.

Home Maintenance for Your Air Conditioning System

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 1:02 pm

One way to really appreciate your central air conditioning system is to have it break down on you during one of the hottest days of the year. But rather than waiting for that unfortunate occurrence, it’s far better to show a little appreciation all summer long in the form of simple, quick, and easy air conditioning system maintenance.

Why it Matters
Central air conditioning units are one of the most expensive components of a home, and they can be severely taxed during extremely hot weather. Just as an automobile may experience more wear and tear in the winter when oil in the crankcase gets cold and thick – so you need to let it warm up before you drive – an A/C system needs a little extra attention in summer. The effort you make will repay you many times over because your system will last longer without unnecessary replacement or repair. But skip these simple tasks and it could wind up costing you, big-time.

Put it on the Calendar
As will other summer chores, putting in on a calendar is the best way to manage home maintenance of your A/C. There are just too many other fun things to do in the summertime, and if you don’t make an appointment with yourself to keep track of home maintenance it will fall by the wayside. Next thing you know summer will be gone – and so will the health of your air conditioner.

What You Can Do Yourself
If you have an outdoor unit with a fan on top, keep tabs on it. The unit is probably sitting on a concrete slab and likely has a cage on top that covers the fan blades. You’ll want to make sure that the cage is kept free of debris such as leaves, so that it can breathe. Also check to see if there is any standing water around the base of the unit that can touch it, which there should not be. Look for rust and corrosion, and if you spot any let your HVAC contractor know and find out how to remedy it. Keep the bushes trimmed and away from the unit, too.

The more common problem you’ll encounter is also the easiest to fix, and that is dirty filters. Locate the A/C filter – which looks kind of like a cardboard picture frame filled-in with insulation material – and replace it anytime it gets covered with dust and lint. Next you’ll want to ensure that the vents where cold air enters the room – as well as any return-air vents you have – are free and clear. Otherwise you might inadvertently cover a major source of cold air with a sofa or bookshelf, blocking your A/C. It’s an easy mistake to make but a simple problem to solve.

When an Inspector Can Help
But another huge difference you can make through DIY home maintenance is to make your A/C system more efficient and less costly by routinely monitoring your home’s energy usage. One way is to add caulking and weather stripping as needed to fill any gaps that let cold air leak outdoors. The other is to upgrade to a computerized thermostat. The upgrade doesn’t cost much – most homeowners can get an appropriate model for about $50 – but it can save you tons on your energy bills.
The best way to start is with an energy audit that is done by a professional home inspector who offers that service. They will show you exactly where to increase insulation to get more for your money. A one-time investment in an energy audit and improved insulation can easily pay itself by lowering your A/C bills, and the savings will continue through winter by also saving on your heating costs.

Taking care of the equipment is relatively painless, especially when compared to the expense and hassle of having to repair or replace a unit. Nobody wants to be forced to do that, particularly in the summertime when air conditioner downtime can make your family’s life miserable and air conditioning contractors are busy and may not be able to take care of your needs right away. Plus buying an A/C unit can really set you back financially. So follow these tips, take advantage of help from an inspector if necessary, and then stay cool, calm, and collected all summer long.

Tips for Hiring a Home Inspector

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 12:59 pm

Many people across North America are shopping for houses right now, because interest rates are historically low and the volume of affordable housing inventory is extremely high. The weather is nice, the days are longer, and it is easier and more convenient to schedule the time to go out and look at homes that are on the market in your neighborhood. But too many potential home buyers overlook one of the most important aspects of the home buying process, namely choosing a great inspector.

Start Your Search Process Early
As with any profession, those who are the best of the bunch are also in highest demand by their customers and clients. If you wait until the paint is all peeling off your house before calling a really reputable house painting company, chances are they’ll tell you to wait because they are all booked-up for the rest of the summer. The same goes for home inspectors.

You may not be able to anticipate exactly when you’ll get a signed and agreed-upon sales contract for the home you decide to buy. That’s understandable. But you still do not have to wait until then to begin interviewing and selecting your home inspector. At least you can get the selection process done ahead of time, before you even start shopping for a house.
That way you’ll have your inspector chosen and he or she will be familiar with you and expecting your call. That can help facilitate a faster scheduling of the inspection when the time comes.

Know How to Find a Reliable Inspector

But first you need a game plan for locating a great inspector. A good way to search is to start by asking trusted professionals you already know such as your attorney or Realtor. You can also ask friends for recommendations, if they have experience with an inspector they especially like.

You should check the references of the inspector, of course, but it is just as important to know what credentials they hold. What is their training and experience, what professional certifications do they have, and are they active members of any professional trade associations? Are they familiar with and experienced with the particular kind of structure that you are about to purchase? In some places inspectors are required to be licensed, and you should look into that before hiring your inspector.

The Importance of Communication
One of the key traits of any professional you hire is communication skill. Even if you have the best Realtor on the planet, for example, if you are not comfortable with them and don’t feel that they can adequately answer your questions, then that professional relationship will not work very well. When you meet your inspector follow your instincts.

Pay attention to how well the inspector listens and responds to your questions, and well they explain their services and procedures. If you aren’t sure about the cost, don’t be afraid to ask. Talking about money is a good test of communication between two people, and if you cannot address financial concerns with your inspector that may leave you dissatisfied.
Hire an inspector who has the experience you expect, the services you need, and a personal rapport and communication style that you like. Then you cannot go wrong.

Schedule the Inspection Promptly
Once the contracts are signed, don’t delay. The longer you postpone the property inspection, the greater the potential for delaying mortgage underwriting, closing, and moving. If repairs are recommended within the inspection report, for example, those need to be negotiated with the seller. You may need to get competitive bids and schedule work with busy contractors, and then you’ll likely want to have the repairs inspected to be sure they were done right. So notify the inspector as soon as you sign a purchase agreement and start setting up a time for the inspector to visit the property and perform the inspection.

Tips for Homeowners: Reduce yard work with these simple steps.

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 11:49 am

During summer there are lots of great ways to spend your time outdoors, and doing yard work is sometimes one of them. Lots of people look forward to the weekend so they can plant flowers, grow their tomatoes, or perfect their lawn’s manicure. But at other times we just wish that yard work did not take so long because it distracts us from things we enjoy more. You might like gardening, but would rather be fishing, playing golf, firing up the BBQ grill, or heading to the beach. So here are some tips for how to reduce your yard work and cut down on the time it takes to do those outdoor chores.

Get Organized
To save time and labor it always helps to invest a little effort just to get more organized. Straighten up your garage and clear out the garden shed. That way you won’t waste all afternoon looking for the right tool. If you don’t have them acquire a good wheelbarrow and small hand truck so you don’t throw your back out moving bags of topsoil or flagstones. For about $50 you can buy a polyurethane model that holds six cubic feet and will last a lifetime with proper care. Those who already have those items should check the tires and make sure they’re properly inflated.

If you are working on a particular project outside, like the installation of a flower bed, set up a staging area. Put everything there that you’ll need to finish the day’s work, and it will save you from running back and forth to the garage or basement to get something else your forgot.

Stay on Schedule
Use a calendar at the start of the season to schedule routine maintenance projects such as sharpening the lawn mower blades, weeding and mulching the garden, checking the foundation for termite tracks, and checking for standing water that can breed mosquitoes. That way you’ll stay on top of things and the tasks will remain easy and fast to finish. Neglect them for too long and it will take much longer to complete them and may cost you more money as equipment breaks down or precious plants die.

Use Weed Block Fabric
One of the best shortcuts to gardening is to lay a sheet of weed block fabric down on the ground before planting. Cut X’s in the fabric and peel the flaps back enough to place your plants into the ground. After planting simply cover the fabric with dirt and mulch to hold it down and hide it from view. That will improve moisture retention for less frequent watering while virtually eliminating the need for any weeding chores. The fabric is available in rolls at any gardening center.

Create an Irrigation Plan
To save water and effort, plan an irrigation system. For flower beds and vegetable gardens a drip hose works well. The hose is perforated so that when placed along the ground you can turn the water on a very low pressure level and the hose will soak the ground around the roots where water is needed most. You can also purchase rain barrels that capture rainwater runoff from your roof so that it can be easily recycled into the yard. Not only does that preserve water but it also reduces your utility bills and can provide an emergency reserve of water to tide you over during periods of drought.