December 15, 2013

Home Inspection Problems/Solutions: Electrical wiring.

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 12:09 pm

From the kitchen to the bathroom to the living room and bedroom, electricity plays a vital role. We use it so much, in fact, that we get used to taking it for granted – the same way we take oxygen for granted because we constantly breath it, day and night, even when we are asleep. But when the electricity goes out, as it often does in the winter months, we suddenly realize how much we rely upon it. Without safe, dependable electricity, in fact, our health and safety can be quickly threatened or jeopardized. So it is no wonder that one of the most common subjects of a home inspection that winds up highlighted within the inspector’s report is the electrical system. That’s because most homes operate thanks to electrical power and an observant home inspector will pay close attention to how a home is wired.

Common Red Flags
Electrical systems are complex, so there are numerous reasons why an inspector may want to make recommendations for repairs or deeper investigation by a licensed electrician. But some of the common reasons why inspectors report on electrical systems include a lack of sufficient safeguards, obsolete wiring, or not enough capacity to safely and reliably operate home systems and appliances that need electrical power.

If the outlets near sources of water like sinks are not protected with built-in circuit interrupters that kick-in to prevent electrocution, that’s a red flag. When 220 V appliances are not properly installed or when there is not enough current to safely operate all of them, that’s another reason to upgrade the wiring. When circuit boxes are out of date or overloaded, or when the wires themselves are old or have cracked or insufficient insulation, that presents a potential fire hazard. Are there soot marks on wall outlet covers, made from sparks that fly when you plug something into the wall? That is yet another reason to take a closer look and possibly repair or upgrade your wiring.

What to Do Next
When you find such mentions in a report, read it carefully and ask the inspector if you have any questions. In most cases you’ll need to then ask licensed electricians to bid on the work of repairing or otherwise remedying whatever problems exist. Or you may need to have an electrician take a closer look at something the inspector noticed, just to provide a more specialized opinion and diagnosis. If work is necessary, have it done by a qualified electrician or, if you are in the middle of a sales transaction as a buyer or seller, negotiate to see who pays for the work. Once work is completed you may want to have the inspector return to do a follow-up inspection and make sure that the issues first noted were properly addressed.

Solutions to Typical Problems
Many electrical issues are relatively simple to fix. You may need to add a ground wire to an outlet or simply put a face plate over an exposed outlet. Maybe you’ll need to have an electrician add more capacity to your circuit breaker box, which will cost more, or perhaps you’ll have to have the wiring brought up to date throughout the entire home – which can be a major project and a rather expensive one. But keep in mind that without good wiring you could be at risk for a much more serious problem such as an injury or accidental fire.

Issues Going Forward
As always, consider your inspection report a valuable document for helping you keep up with home maintenance issues. Sometimes your inspector will mention things pertaining to the electrical system that may not need to be immediately addressed. But if you start adding high-wattage appliances to you house then you might want to revisit the report or ask the inspector to return and do a fresh inspection. Similarly, if you remodel a room or want to add outdoor electrical outlets or fixtures, that may be another time to talk to an inspector or an electrician to study your options and help you make smart, safe decisions.

Real Estate vs. Stocks: Which investment is best for 2014?

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 12:07 pm

The real estate market fell off a cliff a few years ago in an event that triggered a global financial crisis from which most people are still reeling as they try to regain their financial footing. That housing and mortgage meltdown also caused the stock market to implode, plunging even so-called blue chip stocks to extremely low levels. Almost overnight about a trillion or more dollars was wiped away from the retirement accounts and investment portfolios, and that wrecked the financial plans of millions of people across the USA, Canada, and other countries.

The Current Market Environment
Fast forward to today, with 2014 right around the corner. The U.S. stock market just surpassed its all-time record highs. That caps a long bull market that has been gradually rewarding stock market investors – even while the overall economy remained lackluster and unemployment rates stayed historically high. Meanwhile the housing market has experienced a healthy rebound. The foreclosure inventories have shrunk dramatically, new construction is trending upward, and the prices for existing homes are rising at a steady rate across a variety of local markets.

Why Real Estate Rules the Day
The question on the minds of many consumers is where should they put their money? Do they invest in the stock market or do they buy a home or income-producing rental property? Here are three arguments for putting your cash into real estate if you have to choose between the housing market and the stock market.
1) Homes are Easy to Inspect
The amount of corruption on Wall Street is extremely high, based on the number of complaints, investigations, and convictions from enforcement agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission. Plus most stocks are traded by investment banks and other big players who can buy and sell billions of dollars in stocks in a single day. That makes it harder for the average person to find a level playing field. Companies also have lots of ways to calculate their finances in ways that may not be understandable to average investors and that may obscure financial problems that will undercut stock value.
But if you want to invest in a home you can hire a qualified inspector to work on your behalf and check out the property for potential problems. They will give you a written report and answer your questions in plain English. Plus you can have inspections done year after year for a nominal fee to help you monitor the health and value of your home investment. You cannot do that with a stock portfolio.
2) You Cannot Live in Your Stock Portfolio
Stocks are a great way to grow a nest egg, for sure, but if you have to choose between investing in stocks and investing in a place to live, real estate definitely offers a whole more in terms of security, stability, and fringe benefits.
While it may sound like an obvious point, a home represents much more than just an investment. You can live in a home. If it is paid for then even if the stock market blows up and all your stock values get wiped-out, you’ll still have a place to live with your family.
3) Stocks May Be Topping-Out
Strength in the stock market is great, but for the typical investor it means that stock prices are getting expensive relative to real fundamental value. That makes it harder to institute the rule or tactic of “buy low, sell high.” There has not been a substantial market pullback or correction in many months, for example, and usually when stocks reach historic highs they are vulnerable to a pullback of 10% or more.

The housing market has also had a slow and steady recovery. But most house price indices show that home prices are still quite affordable based on housing market historical data. That is a result of both reasonable pricing and affordable financing. Another thing to consider is that huge numbers of people shifted away from home ownership and into the leasing and rental markets. That has created increased demand for rental homes, making the purchase of income-producing properties more lucrative and attractive. So those who are already homeowners may want to still buy real estate they can lease for income as a wealth-building strategy.

Make Decisions Based on Your Unique Needs
Do keep in mind that everyone’s financial situation and goal setting is unique and different, so before making important choices always take that into consideration. Consult a financial expert, your tax planner, your Realtor, and – if you do not understand the terminology or opportunities they present – an experienced attorney. Then make informed, educated, appropriate decisions.

Homeowner Tips for December

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 12:04 pm

Every year at this time we like to pause and think about everything for which we are grateful as we gather with friends and family to celebrate the holidays and New Year. We want to keep the holiday spirits high and the outlook positive and optimistic. But squirrels, raccoons, possums, and other critters work all through the holidays with no down time, and one of their favorite projects this time of year is establishing residence inside your attic.

What to Expect
Usually homeowners are alerted to the presence of unwanted creatures in the attic because they hear scratching and the sounds of the pitter-patter of feet. Oftentimes the noise becomes so loud that it results in sleepless nights as the animals scurry around or knock walnuts back and forth like cue balls on a billiard table. You’ll be sleep deprived and ready to pull your hair out before long, which is no mood to be in during the holidays. Once they get inside they can lead a much more comfortable and upscale life. They’ll have heat rising from your furnace – especially if your attic floor is not well insulated – to keep them nice and toasty warm on even the most frigid nights of the year. They can also stash stores of food by converting part of your attic into an indoor pantry, a project that is especially popular with squirrels who need somewhere safe and dry to put all those nuts and acorns. Meanwhile an attic is the perfect environment for these animals to raise a family, so if they move into your home during autumn and winter you’ll likely have nests full of them in your attic by springtime.

From Bad to Worse
That could be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of problems, though, because these four-legged creatures often get restless and start gnawing away on the plastic-insulated electrical wires they discover. Soon those wires may be sliced in half, rendering your electrical system inoperable. Worse still, tearing away that critical insulation can expose hot, live wires to short circuiting or even sparking and starting a fire. Imagine that there is a wire generating lots of electrical heat right in the midst of a pile of nesting materials such as dried leaves, bits of old paper, twigs, and pecan shells. Soon your holidays could be catastrophically escalated into a full-blown household emergency in the form of a potentially deadly fire.

Fires in the attic can be some of the worst, too, since up at that level they can be fed and whipped into a frenzy by winter winds. Meanwhile if the attic erupts in flames the fire will start to rain down on the interior rooms of your house. Firefighters may not be able to fight that kind of fire from inside because of the danger of an imminent collapse on top of their heads. In that case they will typically set up fire hoses aimed at the roof in an attempt to extinguish the fire by basically filling up the house with water. Even if you get out safely, that scenario is one colossal mess.

Professional Attic Critter Removal
There are essentially three things you need to do to resolve the problem of animals in the attic. First any animals in the attic need to be removed so they don’t get trapped. Next, you need to fill any gaps or voids – like holes in the fascia around the roof – where they can go in and out of the attic. Finally, you need to double check to make sure no baby critters were accidentally left behind. Not only is that the humanitarian thing to do, but it keeps you from having to endure the stench of a dead animal in your attic – another thing that can really spoil a holiday dinner.

Removing these animals is not as easy as it may seem. They can attack and cause diseases like rabies. They can hide, and if you plug their escape routes they may destroy your house in an attempt to get out and survive. They can also sneak back in because you missed a hidden crack or crevice.

Many homeowners try to tackle this problem as a do-it-yourself project, and in the majority instances this is a big mistake. Too many things can go wrong, and most homeowners do not have the equipment and know-how to deal with those contingencies. For your own safety and convenience, call a company in your area that specializes in professional animal removal and elimination of opportunities for critters to enter your home. The effort will be well worth it and you can relax and enjoy your holidays in peace, quiet, and comfort.