June 28, 2013

Home Inspections: A wet basement and how to fix this kind of problem.

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 1:48 pm

When your home inspector issues the inspection report and points out that there is unwanted moisture in the basement you need to heed their recommendations and get the problem fixed. If you are a homeowner planning to sell your home, for instance, a damp basement could potentially frighten away qualified buyers. If you’re a buyer or already live in the home, you should know that moisture accumulating in the basement can be a breeding ground for all sorts of headaches.

The Problem
Moisture attracts mildew and mold, for instance, and some strains of mold are highly toxic or even life-threatening. Your basement may also house systems and components like the furnace, electrical wiring, or appliances like a clothes washer and drier. Having water present can combine with those to shorten their working life or to create safety hazards such as the potential for a fire or accidental electrocution.

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Meanwhile – even if nothing of significance is in the basement – moisture beneath your home will have a tendency to migrate upward as the temperatures change and cause evaporation and condensation. The floor joists under your living room, for instance, might attract moisture and start to rot, or water could wick it way up through the walls of your home, where a basement problem will suddenly become a bigger problem spreading throughout your home.

The Remedy
To cure this kind of issue you’ll want to hire a contractor who can isolate the source or sources of the unwanted moisture and then provide appropriate solutions. Typically water gets into basements either because the walls of the structure don’t have an adequate moisture barrier. Brickwork is porous, for instance, and may be wicking water from outside, and if that is the case it may need to be treated with a sealant. Or it could be that you have inadequate drainage around the home’s foundation perimeter, and that lets rainwater flood into the basement. Grading the landscape and installing drain pipes or a French drain below grade may be the way to fix that problem.

But many basements that are properly sealed still get damp, because they do not have sufficient ventilation. Moisture in the air condenses when temperatures change, and then without a way to vent it collects inside the room. Sometimes installing windows that can be opened and closed will resolve the issue, and venting fans are another way to attack the problem. The idea is to create healthy circulation of air within the enclosed space, and a qualified contractor can show you how. Even insulating water pipes in a basement that drip can help to mitigate the problem, as can the installation of a dehumidifier.

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But if your inspector reports unwanted wetness in the basement, it is also prudent for you to have a follow-up inspection performed by a termite specialist. They can look for any signs that the dampness in the wood has attracted wood-destroying insects such as carpenter ants or termites. You’ll also want to repair or replace any damaged wood, insulation, or other materials or structures that have suffered because of expose to moisture. That way once you cure the source of the moisture and you repair any existing damage you will be good to go, with systems in place to prevent recurring problems.

Real Estate Advice: What to know before hiring a Realtor to sell your home.

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 1:41 pm

Whenever somebody decides to sell their home the cost of hiring a professional real estate agent is one of the biggest bottom line factors, and that is doubly true during a challenging economy. Real estate brokerage fees can add up to a substantial amount of the cost to sell, so homeowners should carefully evaluate any potential cost-cutting alternative.

Here are a few things to consider that can make decisions regarding hiring listing agents easier:

Narrow Down their Specialty or Expertise
Pick a real estate agent who is a good match, not just in terms of personal chemistry and professional credentials but also in their particular specialty and expertise. Some brokers, for example, only represent sellers, and they never accept a commission payment from a buyer. If you are worried about whether or not your fiduciary interests come first, consider hiring an Exclusive Seller Agent if there is one in your area. Are you planning to sell a condo? In that case find someone who specializes in condo sales. Similarly, if you have a vintage home you’ll probably want to work with someone who is expert at marketing older homes – not someone who primarily works with newer construction or modern urban lofts.

Excellent Rapport is Vital
Rapport is critical, and without it a homeowner can wind up confused, frustrated, and disappointed. If you cannot communicate easily, comfortably, and openly with a broker, don’t waste your money or your time. That’s why it’s recommended that you interview several listing agents before making your decision. Ask friends and colleagues for names of Realtors with whom they have been satisfied and when you meet with an agent or broker ask them how they plan to communicate with you throughout the sales process. Will they call only when they have a potential buyer, or will they send you email updates on a weekly basis? Will they handle the listing personally or delegate the marketing of your home to an assistant? Find someone who is a good fit for you and who satisfactorily answers all your questions. That’s the best way to avoid potential problems of miscommunication down the road.

Hire a Good Negotiator
Many sellers – especially first timers – fail to recognize the value of paying for expert professional negotiations, but this is one of the most compelling reasons to hire a Realtor. The value of a professional negotiator cannot be underestimated. Once you have a paid professional doing your selling it will be his or her responsibility to iron out wrinkles or solve unforeseen problems that may arise before the sale is successfully completed. So be sure to ask agents and brokers about their negotiating experience, and when asking friends for recommendations tell them you want someone who is a proven successful negotiator.
Other Considerations
There are also many different kinds of programs and services as alternatives to the ones typically associated with the full service real estate business. Some brokers offer a limited menu of services for a discounted rate but will still advertise the home prominently in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Others will provide assistance with contracts and negotiations if you do your own showing appointments and tours; and there are a number of variations on this theme of partial service in exchange for a discounted fee.

Signing a listing agreement does not mean carving your future in stone, either, especially if you negotiate a short listing period. Try out a broker for a month or two. If you don’t see results, let the listing expire and hire somebody else. If you do get results, extend the listing. But don’t hesitate to fire a broker who is not working to your satisfaction. If you have problems with one agent, you can also request a different Realtor from the same office by talking to the broker/owner of a firm.

Homeowner Help: Low maintenance gardening.

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 11:04 am

The gardening season is here, in full bloom. But while growing your own vegetables or having beautiful beds of colorful flowers is great fun, the warmer months are also ideal for relaxation and recreation. That’s why most homeowners who enjoy gardening also want to minimize their garden maintenance. Sure, everyone likes fresh flowers or homegrown tomatoes on the vine, but how many homeowners want to spend their weekends doing constant weeding?
So here are some tips for creating a less labor-intensive garden:

Let the Sun Guide Location
In the real estate business they are fond of saying that location is everything. But the same holds true for gardens. First of all, identify the sunny spots – whether they are inside on a windowsill or outdoors on a balcony – and calculate the average number of hours of available sunlight. Since it is still relatively early in terms of gardening in many parts of North America, you also have to factor in the shade created by overhead tree canopies. As those trees begin to green-out, the leaves will block or filter the sunlight.

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So don’t depend on getting the same amount of sun all summer than your garden plot might be receiving this month. Imagine the trees when their leaves are fully developed, and think ahead. Otherwise what seems like the ideal place for growing plants that need full sun might turn into a garden plot with only partial sunlight. Notwithstanding those considerations, keep in mind that six hours of strong sunlight is sufficient for growing practically anything you want to. Meanwhile for those shady areas you can still grow attractive plants like hostas.

Cultivate the Soil
Most people work really hard and put most of their effort into nurturing the plants once they begin to grow. But the truly successful gardener will put most of their energy into cultivating the soil before the seeds every go into the ground. Plants will thrive in nutrient rich soil and when their roots have plenty of space to stretch out and extend themselves. They also need the right amount of water and drainage, and this all depends upon the kind of soil you use when planting. Rather than just using a garden spade to dig into the existing dirt in your yard and begin planting, give some serious consideration to the preparation of each garden plot or flowerbed.

It is a good idea to have your soil tested, and in most places that’s an easy thing to do. Just take a sample to the local agricultural office and they’ll test it for you to let you know if you need to balance it out by adding specific minerals and nutrients. Then till the ground really well using a motor-driven tiller or either a mattock or hoe. A foolproof way to ensure that your soil is fantastic is to build your own raised beds or garden boxes. Use railroad ties, stones, or similar components to create a structure that looks like a sandbox. Then fill it with a good blend of topsoil and compost. Using one part mushroom compost and three parts topsoil, for example, will create a rich formula – and you can buy bags of soil and compost at any home improvement store. Stick with organic materials, too, if possible, since synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers often kill off beneficial nutrients and can leave the soil somewhat sterilized and dead.

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Contain the Work
Another way to limit the work needed to start a garden without limiting your yield is to practice container gardening. You can grow flowers, herbs, and vegetables in pots on the patio or boxes on the windowsill, for instance, and have a robust garden without all the work of creating a garden plot in the yard.

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Bush tomatoes, especially grape and cherry varieties, make wonderful container plants. When they get so big that they sag, support them with stakes or a wire tomato basket available at any nursery. Basil, parsley, chives, thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary, mint and sage can thrive in a window box, but keep mint in its own container because it likes extra damp soil and has invasive roots that will crowd neighboring plants. Other excellent container plants include hot peppers, leafy greens and even potatoes.

Ask the local nursery for plant recommendations based on the local climate, the amount of care the plants require, and your particular sunshine situation. Then go grow a garden and see how much fun it can be.