October 15, 2015

Home Inspection Issues: Chimneys & Fireplaces

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 11:24 am

The onset of fall and winter and colder weather means that home buyers may be on the lookout for listings with chimneys and fireplaces. Not only do those features add unique charm to a home, those that are functioning provide an extra safety net if the power goes out during a winter storm and you have no other heating source to rely on to keep your family warm. But these features often show up on home inspection reports, flagged by an inspector doing a general inspection before a homeowner lists a property or on behalf of a buyer who wants to have the home checked-out prior to closing.

What it Probably Means
Because general inspections don’t typically include chimneys and fireplaces, the inspector will likely recommend that you have those evaluated by a trained and experienced chimney and fireplace specialist. If you see that kind of comment in your report, don’t be alarmed. Your inspector is simply advising you to have a professional chimney expert take a closer look, since that is beyond the scope of a general home inspection.

In rare cases, if something is blatantly obvious to the naked eye, the inspector may, of course, flag a chimney or fireplace due to other more visible concerns. Say, for instance, that bricks are visible on the roof that have been dislodged from the chimney and have fallen. In that case consult with the inspector if you have any questions.
But normally a recommendation to have an expert take a look just means that you should have someone with the right tools and training study the chimney and fireplace to ensure that everything is in good, safe working condition.

What to Do Next
Usually this kind of evaluation can be done by a chimney sweep or brick mason who specializes in chimney and fireplaces. You’ll want to hire someone who has tool such as small video equipment that can travel all the way up the chimney column to detect any cracks, voids, or other problems inside the chimney itself. They should also check the outside of the chimney, including the flashing around it where it protrudes through the roof or is attached to the side of the house and the protective chimney cap.

The fireplace box also needs to be checked. The professional should ensure that the flue and other components are working properly, that the hearth protects the adjacent floor from heat or potential fire, and that any combustible building materials are a safe distance from any heat source along the way. Oftentimes the chimney also needs to be swept or cleaned so that there is no blockage and that any accumulated creosote or other flammable material is removed from the interior, to help avoid potential chimney fires.

Follow-Up Procedures
If repairs or maintenance are needed, have those taken care of and then the buyer and seller will want to negotiate the cost. The seller will usually do the repair prior to closing. In some circumstances they may also pay cash at closing or reduce the sales price to help accommodate the expense of the buyer doing the repair at a later date. At any rate, solicit 2-4 competing bids to figure out your actual costs. After repairs or upgrades it is always a good idea to have your inspector and the chimney specialist return for a follow-up visit to look over the work and give it a clean bill of health or make further recommendations as needed.

Real Estate Advice: Prepare clients for rising interest rates.

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 11:20 am

Real estate professionals depend upon the mortgage markets to help them make sales and earn a living. Unless buyers can qualify for affordable financing most of them can’t purchase a home – so you lose that income from working with buyers. A lack of financing also impacts your sales if you are a listing agent, because very few homes sell unless a mortgage company gets involved. Of course one of the most influential factors with regard to home mortgages is the interest rate, and in September the head of the U.S. Federal Reserve said that prevailing interest rates will likely rise before the end of the year.

The end of the year is practically on top of us already, especially from the point of view of a real estate professional. That’s because it usually takes anywhere from six weeks to two months to finalize and close on a home sale transaction. With only three or four months left in the year – and the holidays slowing down mortgage company processing in late November through year’s end – the window of opportunity to close before 2016 arrives is really short. If rates are going to rise by then, you have to start educating and preparing your buyers right now so that they can take advantage of today’s rates before those low rates are history.

Don’t underestimate the significance of a rate hike, especially the one that experts expect to happen soon. The Fed, for example, has not raised rates for almost a decade. That means that most buyers have gotten spoiled by the cheapest mortgage rates in history, and with prevailing rates at near zero there is only one way for rates to move, and that’s higher and higher. Many first time homebuyers, for instance, are in the Millennial Generation, in their 20s and early 30s. You have to realize that while they are one of the most important demographic target markets for real estate sales today, their experience of the mortgage and credit markets is limited.

Ten years ago, the last time there was an interest rate hike, most of them were not even adults – and some of them were only in junior high school. They may consider themselves savvy real estate investors, but it is your responsibility as a Realtor to school them on the impact of rising mortgage rates. Otherwise they could wind up chasing rates that keep rising, unable to qualify for a mortgage and achieve their dream of home ownership.

As soon as the government raises the price of money lent to banks, mortgages will follow suit. Potential buyers should start working now to reduce their debt, clean up their credit, and get prequalified for a home loan. Since other forms of debt like credit card balances will also get more expensive as rates rise, it’s important to manage budgets and pay off those loans now, while doing so is still easier and more affordable. Meanwhile sellers who are hoping to use a home equity loan to pay for upgrades or repairs need to also act soon, before the cost of borrowing becomes too high.
An excellent marketing strategy for real estate agents is to partner with a trusted local lender and host a free workshop, seminar, or Q&A session attended by buyers and sellers. The mortgage lender can discuss the impact of rising rates and help address borrower concerns, and you can take advantage of the event to cultivate new leads and strengthen your relationship with potential buyers and sellers.

Homeowner Tips: Perform annual appliance maintenance.

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 11:13 am

One of the best, most efficient ways to organize and stay on top of your home maintenance tasks is to create lists of yearly projects, and then assign them to a particular month.

There are two reasons why this works really well. The first is that unless you put yearly maintenance on your calendar, chances are you won’t do these jobs on an annual basis. Instead you’ll do them as you remember them or have time to schedule them. That’s sort of like changing the oil in your car when you get around to it, versus every 3,500 miles. Change it after 2,500 miles and you might be wasting money. Change it after 5,000 miles and the procrastination might add unnecessary wear and tear on the engine.
The other reason is that when you assign tasks to a particular month you don’t have to worry about adding too much to your workload during a particular month and you also have fewer worries that something will break down and need a repair when you least expect it. That’s because doing annual maintenance helps you avoid repairs, while it extends the life of the systems, gadgets, and components of your home.

With that in mind, here are some appliance chores that you should tend to at least once a year. If you have room on your calendar, add them as an annual October project list.

Refrigerators
Fridges run constantly, and to maintain peak efficiency you should perform routine inspections that you can do yourself as the homeowner. Start by running your fingers along the seal or gasket that is on the door of the fridge, the soft rubber part that literally seals in the cold air and keeps it from leaking. If that seal is cracked, loose, torn, separated, or otherwise damaged you’ll want to have it replaced by an appliance specialist.

Regularly vacuum the coils of the fridge, too. These are typically located below or behind the unit, and cleaning them removes lint, dust, and dirt that can compromise their performance.

Washers and Dryers
Washing machines don’t have that many moving parts, but it’s the ones that do not move that often cause the biggest headaches. The water hoses on your clothes washer can cause havoc if they burst. In fact, hoses that break can allow up to 650 gallons of water per hour to flow into your home’s interior. That’s why water damage from washing machines is one of the top five causes of homeowner’s insurance claims, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety. If your machine has rubber hoses, replace those immediately with steel-jacketed ones that are less prone to deterioration. If you have steel-jacketed hoses, check them once a year for corrosion that can cause those types of hoses to fail.
Dryers, on the other hand, can erupt in flames if lint build-up too much in the machine or ductwork. Replace flimsy vinyl plastic ducts with metal ones, and check the vent where the warm air escapes on an outside wall of your home to ensure that it is cleaned-out and not blocked by accumulated lint. Dryers cause about 15,000 fires a year in the USA alone, so this simple maintenance is a vitally important one.

Portable Heaters and Ceiling Fans
In winter ceiling fans should usually run in a clockwise direction to push the warm air back down away from the ceiling so that it continues to circulate down below and warm your room. There should be a button or slider switch on the fan housing, and if your fan is now operating counter-clockwise switching that to the other setting will cause the fan blades to turn clockwise. While you’re at it, clean the blades of accumulated dust to cut down on allergens that can cause respiratory problems.

All space heaters need to away from flammable materials, and those that burn pellets or other fuel must be properly ventilated. Be sure that all of your space heaters are in top working order, and when in doubt have them – and their safe installation, hookup, and venting – checked and verified by a heating professional.