September 3, 2012

Understanding Realtor Roles and Responsibilities

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 8:12 am

September is one of the last months of the typically busier summer real estate season. As cooler weather approaches that normally means that the housing market will also cool down before ramping up again next spring. Many people will spend the last several weeks of warmer weather shopping for a new home. But before enlisting the services of a real estate broker or agent to help you buy or sell your home, it is important for you to first understand that not all Realtors have the same legal roles and responsibilities. How they operate – and what your relationship to them will be – all depends upon what particular laws and regulations they must follow.

Here is an overview of some of the main categories of real estate relationships, to help you gain a more insightful perspective regarding whether or not your agent or broker represents the buyer, the seller, or both.

Understanding “Agency”
Consumers typically think of agency as meaning a business or other kind of group. We do business with insurance agencies, real estate agencies, and sometimes need the support and assistance of a law enforcement agency, an advertising agency, or a talent agency. But when it comes to matters of real estate law, agency refers to legal representation.

The person who serves as your legal representative is your agent, and how they must act according to the law is determined by the nature of that legal agency or relationship. To whom do they owe fiduciary allegiance, or in other words on whose behalf and in whose best interest are they acting as they execute their professional responsibilities?

In the real estate business there are various kinds of relationships. Sometimes the broker or agent acts primarily on behalf of the seller. Other brokers and agents work primarily for the buyer. Then there are those who are responsible for trying to represent both the buyer and the seller equally.

Dual Agency
Dual agency is the term for a real estate broker who represents both the buyer and the seller during the same sales transaction. A common way reason for dual agency is when a real estate broker has one agent who lists a property for a seller and another agent who finds the buyer.
In that case, the broker is in the awkward position of trying to serve the best interests of both the buyer and the seller – who have opposing interests in the transaction. Since this could cause conflict of interest, a broker in this situation will usually have the buyer and sell sign documents verifying that they have given up their rights to full, exclusive representation.

The bottom line? If you work with a dual agent don’t tell them anything that you don’t want the other party to the transaction to know. The agent or broken has allegiance to both the buyer and seller so if, for instance, you are willing to accept a lower price as a seller or pay less as a buyer they have a responsibility to share that information with the other party.

Exclusive Buyer Agency
But buyers can hire their own exclusive agents to guarantee that only their best interests are served. Look for a Realtor who is an official Exclusive Buyer’s Agent. They are specially trained and by law are not permitted to list any property for a seller. Instead their loyalty and fiduciary duty is only to the buyer. So if you are shopping for a home, one of these agents may be your best bet.

Seller’s Agency
Likewise, Seller’s Agents work as the exclusive representatives of home sellers. They will certainly assist the buyer in a professional manner. But their legal loyalty and fiduciary duty is first and foremost to the seller. So if you are selling your home you may want to enlist the help of an Exclusive Seller’s Agent.

Co-op Agency
Of course lots of time transactions involve Realtors who work for broker firms that are in competition with each other. For instance brokerage firm A may have an agent who has listed a home for sale. But someone from brokerage firm B comes along with a qualified buyer. In this situation the agent bringing the buyer is considered a “co-op” agent. That agent acts as a facilitator for the listing agent, kind of like a “sub agent” and receives part of the selling agent’s commission as compensation.
If you are a buyer working with a co-op agent, keep in mind that whatever you tell the co-op agent may be related back to the listing agent and the seller. If you want to avoid a co-op agent situation then, as explained before, you can work with an Exclusive Buyer’s Agent. They always represent the buyer and only the buyer.

Home Inspection Tips: Match your inspector to your property and your expectations.

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 8:10 am

When you are ready to hire a home inspector, you may want to give yourself an added advantage by hiring one who is a good match for your particular home. Sure, all trained and qualified home inspectors can perform essentially the same kind of evaluations and give you reports that basically cover the same topics or issues. But just as in the health care field we have pediatric doctors for youngsters and geriatric specialists for senior citizens; you may find that some inspectors are better suited for your needs because of their specific kind of experience or area of expertise.

Here’s an example to help illustrate why this might be worthy of your consideration. Let’s say, for example, that you live in a rural home that was built 100 years ago. That home is going to have different characteristics from a sleek urban condo built last year. Chances are you will want to work with an inspector who is really familiar with older structures. Maybe the old home has asbestos plaster, for instance, which is really rare but was commonly used back in the early part of the 20th century. Perhaps it has knob and tube wiring – another antique kind of feature that was phased out decades ago but still exists in some homes. You may also have a water well on your property that supplies your water, and you may have your own private septic system.

In the brand new condo that’s downtown, on the other hand, you may have features that represent the latest in green technology. Perhaps you want to discuss your condo with an inspector who is knowledgeable about the latest in alternative energy sources like solar panels, or you want to have your carbon footprint reduced by installing different kinds of appliances. Then there are the legal or technical issues unique to condos that are not applicable to traditional single-family homes.
When you own a condo, for instance, the upkeep and repair of some major systems or structural and architectural components may not be your sole responsibility. Oftentimes it is up to the homeowner’s association to deal with the leaky roof, outdated air conditioning system, or plumbing problem in your building. In that case you’re going to want the reassurance that your inspector is an expert at understanding those issues and that he or she will know which systems or components to inspect – even if they are not located within the confines of your particular condo unit.

Most inspectors are well-rounded and have a good working knowledge of all different kinds of structures of various ages and with a variety of features. But as a consumer it is always good to inquire ahead of time. That way you’ll know exactly who you are hiring and what their background and experience happens to be. So just keep in mind that when interviewing an inspector you should ask them about their areas of particular expertise, skill, training, and familiarity. Oftentimes that means you’ll wind up hiring someone who works a lot in your area or neighborhood.

After all, the inspector who has spent most of his or her career working in downtown Chicago has probably encountered plenty of urban homes – whereas they might not have the same depth of experience when it comes to inspecting your beach house down in Florida. Talk to inspectors before hiring them if you have any doubts. Look at examples of their inspection reports, which is a great way to find out how they operate and communicate the results of their findings. Check their references, credentials, professional affiliations, and see if they have a file at the Better Business Bureau.

The truth is that any expert inspector should be able to do a stellar job of conducting a general home inspection. Most inspectors have to undergo rigorous training both in the classroom and in the field to prepare them for most anything. But because they are professionals their first goal is to make sure you are satisfied and pleased with their services. After all, the best advertising an inspector can wish for is the free kind that comes from word of mouth recommendations from people like yourself. Don’t be shy about asking questions to familiarize yourself with your inspector. They expect it, and the best inspectors welcome it because they are proud of their professionalism and are eager to stand behind their reputation

Home Safety and Security: Getting to know your electrical system.

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 8:10 am

Electricity surrounds us no matter where we go and what we do. But it remains rather mysterious. In many ways electricity is familiar to us all, but in significant other ways it is an unexplained phenomenon. Electricity facilitates the smooth, comfortable, convenient operation of our households. But we usually appreciate it the most when the lights go out and we suddenly realize the extent to which we are totally dependent upon that magical juice that powers our homes.

Yes, indeed, electricity and its unique behavior remain a continual source of wonder and scientific research, because it is one of the most fundamental forces and puzzles of our universe. The good news is that as a homeowner you don’t have to understand much about it in order to enjoy the benefits of it. But you should know enough about electricity to fully recognize both its value and its potential danger. It’s fine to forget about it and let it do its work silently as it powers up your gadgets, light fixtures, and appliances. But don’t get lulled into thinking that you can completely neglect the electrical system of your home just because the high voltage currents that circulate through your home are unseen and silent.

Every year homes are damaged or destroyed because of faulty wiring or inadequate or outdated electrical systems. Many people are seriously injured or electrocuted to death due to accidents that could be prevented by maintaining their home electrical systems in a more prudent manner. Plus there are millions of dollars wasted each year because costly electrical devices were not properly protected from unexpected electrical surges. In other words it may not be a house fire caused by a deteriorated wire in the attic that wreaks havoc on your home. Sometimes it’s something as simple as not having a powerful enough surge protector installed when an electrical storm passes through the neighborhood and fries your fancy home theater equipment, computer, or video games.

Unless you’re a trained electrician you may find yourself in a baffling situation as a homeowner. When a light bulb burns out, you’ve got that covered. But when the electrical outlet stops providing power, you may not be sure how to troubleshoot and correct that problem. What does it mean when you turn on a hair dryer and the lights go out because the device flipped a circuit breaker? When your fridge cycles on at night do the lights in the kitchen suddenly dim and then go back to normal brightness? Is that a symptom of a more serious and potentially hazardous issue related to your wiring or electrical circuit capacity? What about those outlets with the red push buttons in the middle of them? They can prevent electrocution, and you need to have them at every outlet that is exposed to water – such as in your kitchen and bathroom areas.
But did you know that just having the right faceplate with the little red button is no guarantee that the built-in circuit breaking protection is actually working? Many people put those plastic faceplates or outlet covers in their homes, but they don’t wire them correctly. In that case it is just like having a smoke detector in your home that doesn’t have any batteries to make it work – the special outlet cover is just cosmetic and does absolutely nothing to make you and your family safer.

So what do you do? Fortunately, that’s the easy and affordable part. Just give a licensed electrician or a home inspector who can check your electrical system a call. Make an appointment to have them come to your home and spend a little time walking around with you and evaluating your home’s wiring and electricity. Ask them questions, and pay attention to their recommendations. The cost of the inspection or analysis isn’t much when you factor in how much peace of mind and added security it will give to you and your family. But don’t wait until you notice little scorch marks on your electrical outlets or see sparks fly when you unplug the vacuum. Do it now. Then you won’t have to do it again for a while, and in the meantime you’ll be glad you did.

Home Maintenance: When solar energy is not such a good thing.

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 8:08 am

Hot enough for you? Solar heat can get pretty intense during summertime, and this summer most of North America was one great big furnace. Highways in some states got so hot they buckled, leaving big gnarly crevices in the road. Wildfires erupted and destroyed vast tracts of land and billions of dollars worth of homes and property. Power grids were strained. Crops failed due to drought. The Christian Science Monitor reported that at least 40,000 daily heat records were broken this summer, and CNN announced that at least 50 of them were broken within just a week or two.

The weather service reported that it was the hottest summer in 60 years for southern Canada and the USA, and in the lower 48 the mercury rose so high that the nation registered the highest temperatures since the 1930s dust bowl era. That’s awfully hot, and that kind of heat can warp poorly installed home siding, blister exterior paint jobs, and rob valuable trees of vital water. That’s why it is a good idea to spend some time looking at your home and landscape for signs of overheating.

How do the roof shingles look? Are they curled up on the corners, so that a strong autumn wind might rip them away or so that rain, ice, or snow can creep underneath them and do serious damage to your home? What about the paint on your home? Sections of the house that are more exposed to direct sunlight will likely start to peel and blister first. But if you stay on top of that you can save time and money.

Rather than neglecting those troubled painted areas that get the strong solar heat you can sand them, prime them, and repaint them. That will help to extend your overall paint job so that you don’t have to invest in repainting the entire house quite as often. But if you put off these chores and ignore those sun-damaged patches and it can spread and cause adjacent painted surfaces to deteriorate. Or you’ll wind up with bare wood where the paint peeled away, and that can cause the exposed wood to rot or become vulnerable to wood destroying insects. As is the case with almost all home maintenance issues, remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The little bit of time, money, and effort you put into keeping your home ship shape will pay you back many times over by helping you avoid the really big and messy repairs.

Did you know that a fully mature oak tree can drink as much as 50 gallons of water a day? If you have several large trees on your property and they aren’t getting the hydration they require, that could lead to problems. So when the leaves on your trees look wilted and unusually sickly after a blazing hot and dry summer, don’t hesitate to have those trees checked by an arborist. The last thing you want during the powerful gusts of wind in autumn or the heavy ice and snow storms of winter is for dead limbs to snap loose and fall on your home or car. Losing a tree can be an expensive loss and even one loose limb can cause serious damage, injury, or even death. But if the trees are just a bit anemic from suffering through a drought then there are remedies your arborist can suggest to help you get them back to robust health.
September is a time of big transition and change. The kids are back in school, summertime is winding down and shifting into autumn, and the month represents the last chance for most homeowners to squeeze in a vacation. But when the seasons switch gears it is also a great time to go back over that home maintenance checklist.

The chores that were high priority during the last several months of warm weather can be moved to the back burner, while preparation for autumn and winter takes precedence and priority. To help you keep ahead of the curve and stay updated on your valuable home maintenance, add this important sun damage monitoring task to your annual homeowner to-do list. It is an ideal item to schedule for September.

Homeowner Tips for September

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 8:06 am

Some do it yourself jobs around the house as a hassle. You have to make a couple of trips to the store to get the right tools and supplies, or you have to do your homework to figure out how to perform a successful repair. But once in a while you stumble upon an important homeowner task that is not only simple and relatively easy, but it delivers a noticeable improvement in your quality of life. Checking the orientation of your ceiling fan blades is one of those great homeowner tips that’s a breeze – no pun intended.

This task is easy as pie but can have a big impact. Many homeowners leave their ceiling fan blades oriented in the position they were originally installed, all year ‘round and year in and year out. But manufacturers recommend that you rotate the blades twice a year to coincide with the changes from cold weather to hot weather and back again.
If you aren’t in the habit of doing that, it’s no big deal because it doesn’t hurt the fan. But it could make you less comfortable. That’s because when the fan blades are positioned one way they push the air upward toward the ceiling and when oriented in the other direction that push it downward. The reason that’s important is because warm air rises, while cool air – which is denser and therefore a little heavier – falls. So in the hot summer months when you have the air conditioning on, you will get more cooling effect in your home if the fan blades are set to push the air downward into the room. That way the breeze the fan creates will churn all of that refrigerated air around your house to keep you cool.

But as summer comes to a close and colder weather ushers in the season for heating your home, you’ll want to have your fan blades pushing the air up toward the ceiling. This movement keeps warm air that has risen to the ceiling from just sitting there and keeping only your ceiling warm and toasty. By giving it a push the warm air moves back down the walls of your rooms to improve heat distribution and keep you nice and cozy.

The instructions that come with your fans will explain how to position the blades for each setting. If you’ve tossed out or lost those instructions, don’t worry. You can test the fan easily by just turning it on and feeling the breeze. On the winter setting that pushes air up you won’t feel hardly any fan effect when you stand underneath it. In summertime that can be frustrating because no matter how fast those fan blades churn, you don’t get much breeze. But when the blades are set for summer you’ll feel the air blowing down around you. Determine which setting the fans are on now, and change it if they are incorrect by simply unscrewing the blades, turning them over or around, and reinstalling them. While you’re working on them it is also a convenient time to clean off the dust that accumulates on the blades. Not only does that look nicer but it can help to eliminate the presence of those annoying allergy-aggravating elements that often live amongst the dust bunnies. Clean fan blades translate into cleaner air quality, in other words, so that’s yet another benefit you’ll derive from doing this simple but rewarding chore this time of year.