Real Estate Blog
Friday, September 30 2011
Posted by: Craig Fugate, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency & Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission
Ask anyone who has lived through a significant disaster what that experience was like and – without a doubt – one of the things some people are likely to recall is how difficult it was to communicate from their mobile phones with friends, family and emergency services like 911 in the immediate aftermath.
Many of us were reminded of this last month, when both a 5.8 magnitude earthquake and Hurricane Irene struck parts of the East Coast. People immediately reached for their phones to call loved ones or 911. Unfortunately, in some cases, loss of power made communication difficult.
The FCC and FEMA are doing everything we can to empower the public to be prepared for all emergencies (you can visit www.Ready.gov
to learn more). But one of the lessons learned from that August earthquake was that we can do more to educate the public about the most effective ways to communicate before, during and after a disaster.
Today, we are pleased to release a set of new, easy-to-follow tips to help all Americans prepare their homes and mobile phones for a disaster. These tips are practical things everyone can do to better preserve the ability to communicate effectively during – and immediately after – a disaster.
While we don’t have control over when or where the next disaster will strike, we do have control over what we do to prepare. Check out these tips and please, take one more step and share it with your networks. Use Twitter, Facebook, email or a good old-fashioned phone call to help us spread the word – and help more Americans get ready before the next disaster strikes.
And remember, if you have a question about your particular mobile phone device, contact your wireless provider or equipment manufacturer.
Before a Disaster: How to Prepare Your Home and Mobile Device
During and After a Disaster: How to Reach Friends, Loved Ones & Emergency Services
- Maintain a list of emergency phone numbers in your cell phone and in or near your home phone.
- Keep charged batteries and car-phone chargers available for back-up power for your cell phone.
- If you have a traditional landline (non-broadband or VOIP) phone, keep at least one non-cordless phone in your home because if it will work even if you lose power.
- Prepare a family contact sheet. This should include at least one out-of-town contact that may be better able to reach family members in an emergency.
- Program “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) contacts into your cell phone so emergency personnel can contact those people for you if you are unable to use your phone. Let your ICE contacts know that they are programmed into your phone and inform them of any medical issues or other special needs you may have.
- If you are evacuated and have call-forwarding on your home phone, forward your home phone number to your cell phone number.
- If you do not have a cell phone, keep a prepaid phone card to use if needed during or after a disaster.
- Have a battery-powered radio or television available (with spare batteries).
- Subscribe to text alert services from local or state governments to receive alerts in the event of a disaster. Parents should sign up for their school district emergency alert system.
- If you have a life-threatening emergency, call 9-1-1. Remember that you cannot currently text 9-1-1. If you are not experiencing an emergency, do not call 9-1-1. If your area offers 3-1-1 service or another information system, call that number for non-emergencies.
- For non-emergency communications, use text messaging, e-mail, or social media instead of making voice calls on your cell phone to avoid tying up voice networks. Data-based services like texts and emails are less likely to experience network congestion. You can also use social media to post your status to let family and friends know you are okay. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, you can use resources such as the American Red Cross’s Safe and Well program (www.redcross.org/safeandwell).
- Keep all phone calls brief. If you need to use a phone, try to convey only vital information to emergency personnel and/or family.
- If you are unsuccessful in completing a call using your cell phone, wait ten seconds before redialing to help reduce network congestion.
- Conserve your cell phone battery by reducing the brightness of your screen, placing your phone in airplane mode, and closing apps you are not using that draw power, unless you need to use the phone.
- If you lose power, you can charge your cell phone in your car. Just be sure your car is in a well-ventilated place (remove it from the garage) and do not go to your car until any danger has passed. You can also listen to your car radio for important news alerts.
- Tune into broadcast television and radio for important news alerts. If applicable, be sure that you know how to activate the closed captioning or video description on your television.
- If you do not have a hands-free device in your car, stop driving or pull over to the side of the road before making a call. Do not text on a cell phone, talk, or “tweet” without a hands free device while driving.
- Immediately following a disaster, resist using your mobile device to watch streaming videos, download music or videos, or play video games, all of which can add to network congestion. Limiting use of these services can help potentially life-saving emergency calls get through to 9-1-1.
Check http://paper.li/WilberforceDMR/disaster-emergency-management regularly to find other helpful tips for preparing for disasters and other emergencies.
Thursday, September 29 2011
An Evansville-based company is on a list of the fastest-growing architecture, engineering, planning and environmental consulting firms in Canada and the U.S. Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates Inc. says it has made this year's Zweig Letter Hot Firm List.
Evansville, Indiana – Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates, Inc. (BLA) has been ranked No. 73 among 176 of the fastest-growing firms in the US and Canada in the architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting industry.
Since 2000, The Zweig Letter Hot Firm List has ranked industry firms based on revenue growth for the previous three years. Firms range in size from as small as six employees to as large as 10,000.
“To grow when times are good is one thing, but to grow when times are tough is truly indicative of our commitment to finding solutions that balance the need for infrastructure improvements with the challenges of diminishing or uncertain funding.” said Mike Hinton, BLA’s President and COO. “We are so proud of our employees who work so hard to achieve this and we are continually grateful to our growing base of loyal clients. What’s particularly rewarding is that we have been able to expand our staff in every one of our offices.”
Founded in 1980 in Evansville, Indiana as a transportation planning firm, today BLA maintains offices in Evansville, Indianapolis, and Jeffersonville, Indiana; Maryville, Illinois; and St. Louis, Missouri. The firm now provides a full range of infrastructure planning and design services to government, energy, agricultural and private development clients. With 180 employees and projects nationwide BLA is also listed among Engineering News Record’s 2011 “Top 500 Design Firms” and “Midwest Top 70 Design Firms.”
You can view the full list by clicking here.
Source: Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates, Inc. & InsideINdianaBusiness.com Report
Tuesday, September 27 2011
Crooks go where the money is. So with Americans spending as much as $22 billion a year on construction projects, it’s no surprise that home improvement has become a favorite target for fraud artists. Some of these shady characters use amazingly well-polished contractor scams that are tricky to spot until it’s too late.
The vast majority of contractors are honest, hardworking professionals. Protecting yourself against the few bad apples requires checking references, having a solid contract, and being alert to the warning signs of these top five contractor scams.
Scam 1: I’ll need the money up front
This is the most common ruse reported to the Better Business Bureau. Your contractor explains that because he has to order materials and rent earthmoving equipment to get the job started, he needs, say, 30% to 50% of the project price up front. Once you’ve forked over the dough, one of two things happens: He disappears on you, or he starts doing slapdash work knowing that you can’t really fire him because he’s sitting on thousands of your dollars.
How to protect yourself: Never prepay more than $1,000 or 10% of the job total, whichever is less. That’s the legal maximum in some states, and enough to establish that you’re a serious customer so the contractor can work you into his schedule—the only valid purpose of an advance payment. As to the materials and backhoe rentals, if he’s a professional in good standing, his suppliers will provide them on credit.
Scam 2: Take my word for it
When you first meet with the contractor, he’s very agreeable about doing everything exactly to your specifications and even suggests his own extra touches and upgrades. Some of the details don’t make it into the contract, but you figure it doesn’t matter because you had such a clear verbal understanding.
Pretty soon, you notice that the extras you’d discussed aren’t being built. When you confront the contractor, he tells you that he didn’t include those features in his price, so you’ll have to live without them or pony up additional money to redo the work.
How to protect yourself: Unfortunately, you have no legal recourse because you signed a contract that didn’t include all the details. Next time, make sure everything you’ve agreed on is written into the project description. Add any items that are missing, put your initials next to each addition, and have the contractor initial it, too—all before you sign.
Scam 3: I don’t need to pull a permit
You’re legally required to get a building permit for any significant construction project. That allows building officials to visit the site periodically to confirm that the work meets safety codes.
On small interior jobs, an unlicensed contractor may try to skirt the rule by telling you that authorities won’t notice. On large jobs that can’t be hidden, the contractor may try another strategy and ask you to apply for a homeowner’s permit, an option available to do-it-yourselfers.
But taking out your own permit for a contractor job means lying to authorities about who’s doing the work. And it makes you responsible for monitoring all the inspections—since the contractor doesn’t answer to the inspector, you do.
How to protect yourself: Always demand that the contractor get a building permit. Yes, it informs the local tax assessor about your upgrade, but it weeds out unlicensed contractors and gives you the added protection of an independent assessment of the work.
Scam 4: We ran into unforeseen problems
The job is already under way, perhaps even complete, when this one hits. Suddenly your contractor informs you that the agreed-upon price has skyrocketed. He blames the discovery of structural problems, like a missing beam or termite damage, or design changes that you made after the job began.
The additional fees might very well be legit, but some unscrupulous contractors bid jobs low to get the work and then find excuses to jack up the price later. If you’re unsure whether your contractor is telling the truth about structural problems, you can get an impartial opinion from a home inspector, the local branch of the National Association of Home Builders, or even your local building department.
How to protect yourself: Before signing the contract, make sure it includes a procedure for change orders—mini-contracts containing a work description and a fixed price—for anything that gets added to the job in progress. The extra work, whether it’s related to unforeseen building issues or homeowner whims, can proceed only after the change order is signed by both homeowner and contractor.
Scam 5: I’ve got extra materials I can sell you cheap
This hoax is usually run by driveway paving companies, whose materials—hot-top asphalt and concrete—can’t be returned to the supplier. So the crew pulls up to your house with a load of leftover product and quotes a great price to resurface your driveway on the spot.
Even if it’s really a bargain (by no means a sure thing), taking them up on the offer is risky if you have no idea who they are and haven’t checked references. And if the driveway starts cracking next year, you can bet you won’t find this bunch again.
How to protect yourself: Never hire a contractor on the spot, whether it’s a driveway paver, an emergency repairman who shows up after a major storm, or a landscaper with surplus plantings. Take your time to check contractors out to make sure they have a good reputation and do quality work.
A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He’s currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.
Monday, September 26 2011
Existing-home sales increased in August, even with ongoing tight credit and appraisal problems, along with regional disruptions created by Hurricane Irene, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Monthly gains were seen in all regions.
Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 7.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.03 million in August from an upwardly revised 4.67 million in July, and are 18.6 percent higher than the 4.24 million unit level in August 2010.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said there are some positive market fundamentals. “Some of the improvement in August may result from sales that were delayed in preceding months, but favorable affordability conditions and rising rents are underlying motivations,” he said. “Investors were more active in absorbing foreclosed properties. In additional to bargain hunting, some investors are in the market to hedge against higher inflation.”
Investors accounted for 22 percent of purchase activity in August, up from 18 percent in July and 21 percent in August 2010. First-time buyers purchased 32 percent of homes in August, unchanged from July; they were 31 percent in August 2010.
All-cash sales accounted for 29 percent of transactions in August, unchanged from July; they were 28 percent in August 2010; investors account for the bulk of cash purchases.
“We had some disruptions from Hurricane Irene in the closing weekend of August, when many sales normally are finalized, along the Eastern seaboard and in New England,” Yun said. “As a result, the Northeast saw the smallest sales gain in August, and some general impact is expected in September with widespread flooding from Tropical Storm Lee. Aberrations in housing data are possible over the next couple months as markets recover from disrupted closings and storm damage.”
Yun said an extremely important issue currently is the renewal and availability of the National Flood Insurance Program, scheduled to expire at the end of this month. “About one out of 10 homes in this country need flood insurance to get a mortgage, and we would see significant negative market impacts without it,” he said.
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 4.27 percent in August, down from 4.55 percent in July; the rate was 4.43 percent in August 2010. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year fixed rate fell to a record low 4.09 percent.
NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., said the market is remarkably affordable for people with secure jobs, good credit and long-term plans. “All year, the relationship between home prices, mortgage interest rates and family income has been hovering at historic highs, meaning the best housing affordability conditions in a generation,” he said.
“The biggest factors keeping home sales from a healthy recovery are mortgages being denied to creditworthy buyers, and appraised valuations below the negotiated price. Buyers may be able to find more favorable credit terms with community and small regional banks, and Realtors® can often give buyers advice to help them overcome some of the financing obstacles,” Phipps said.
Contract failures – cancellations caused largely by declined mortgage applications or failures in loan underwriting from appraised values coming in below the negotiated price – were reported by 18 percent of NAR members in August, up from 16 percent July and 9 percent in August 2010.
The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $168,300 in August, which is 5.1 percent below August 2010. Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales typically sold at deep discounts – accounted for 31 percent of sales in August, compared with 29 percent in July and 34 percent in August 2010.
Total housing inventory at the end of August fell 3.0 percent to 3.58 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.5-month supply at the current sales pace, down from a 9.5-month supply in July.
Single-family home sales rose 8.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.47 million in August from 4.12 million in July, and are 20.2 percent above the 3.72 million pace in August 2010.
The median existing single-family home price was $168,400 in August, which is 5.4 percent below a year ago.
Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 1.8 percent a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000 in August from 550,000 in July, and are 8.3 percent higher than the 517,000-unit level one year ago. The median existing condo price was $167,500 in August, down 3.3 percent from August 2010.
Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 2.7 percent to an annual pace of 770,000 in August and are 10.0 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $244,100, which is 5.1 percent below August 2010.
Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 3.8 percent in August to a level of 1.09 million and are 26.7 percent above August 2010. The median price in the Midwest was $141,700, down 3.5 percent from a year ago.
In the South, existing-home sales increased 5.4 percent to an annual pace of 1.94 million in August and are 16.9 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the South was $151,000, which is 0.8 percent below August 2010.
Existing-home sales in the West jumped 18.3 percent to an annual pace of 1.23 million in August and are 20.6 percent higher than August 2010. The median price in the West was $189,400, down 13.0 percent from a year ago.
Source: NAR http://://realtormag.realtor.org/daily-news/2011/09/21/august-existing-home-sales-leap-despite-headwinds
Friday, September 23 2011
By Alexa Von Tobel for Manilla
When it comes time to save up some money, your first instinct might be to cut spending by eating out less often, paring down your shopping budget or kicking your coffee habit. But cutting costs doesn’t necessarily mean giving up your favorite things. These tips will help you trim down your household bills without tightening your budget.
Keeping the electric appliances in your house plugged in when they’re not in use adds dollars to your energy bill. Unplug the toaster oven when you’re done heating up the pizza, and turn off computers instead of leaving them on sleep mode. Swap out your old light bulbs for compact fluorescent bulbs which use 25% less energy than regular bulbs. Use your air conditioner and heater sparingly, and always check to make sure the windows are closed before you turn on the air.
Cell Phone Bill
Take a look at last month’s cell phone bill. Did you have lots of leftover minutes? Did you have to pay overage fees for going over your text message limit? These are signs that your cell phone plan isn’t right for you, and you’re paying unnecessary charges. Figure out what your calling and texting needs are; then call up your phone company to find the right plan for you.
Premium cable services come with over 300 channels, but when packaged with Internet and phone services, this household bill can cost you $130 every month. Without premium cable, you’ll still be able to watch television shows on the major broadcasting networks like ABC and CBS. Ask your cable company to put your services on “vacation mode” to find out if you really need all of those extra channels.
Your cell phone and laptop didn’t come cheap, and they also cost a bundle to repair and replace. But taking proper care of your electronics can prolong their use and help you avoid necessary maintenance costs. Make sure your laptop has the latest anti-virus software, and clean it regularly with a soft cloth to remove dust that can clog up internal mechanisms. Turn off your cell phone when you’re not using it or when you’re in an out-of-service area in order to maximize its battery life. Setting your phone on vibrate, keeping your phone in a warm place like your pocket and having a bring backlight can also shorten battery life, so avoid these if possible.
Alexa Von Tobel is the founder and CEO of LearnVest, the leading personal finance site for women.
Thursday, September 22 2011
Labor Day through Halloween is your window for preparing lawns for a lush spring.
Although spring lawn care gets all the attention, fall lawn care is the make-it or break-it season for grass.
“I’m already thinking about next year,” says John Dillon, who takes care of New York City’s Central Park, which features 200 acres of lawn in the middle of Manhattan. “The grass I grow this fall is what will be there next spring.”
Fall lawn care is no walk in the park. It’s hard work, and Dillon guides you through the four basic steps.
Aeration gives your lawn a breather in autumn and provides room for new grass to spread without competition from spring weeds. Aeration tools pull up plugs of grass and soil, breaking up compacted turf. That allows water, oxygen, and nutrients to reach roots, and gives seeds room to sprout.
If kids frequently play on your lawn, plan to aerate twice a year — fall and spring. If your lawn is just for show, then aerate once a year — and maybe even once every other year.
A hand-aerating tool ($20), which looks like a pitchfork with hollow tines, is labor-intensive and meant for unplugging small sections of grass. Gas-powered aerating machines (rental, $20/hour) are about the size of a big lawn mower, and are good for working entire lawns. Bring some muscle when you pick up your rental: Aerating machines are heavy and can be hard to lift into your truck or SUV.
Depending on the size of your property, professional aeration costs about $150.
Fall, when the soil temperature is about 55 degrees, is the best time to seed your lawn because turf roots grow vigorously in fall and winter. If you want a lush lawn, don’t cheap out on the seed.
Bags of inexpensive seed ($35 for 15 pounds) often contain hollow husks, weed seed, and annual rye grass seed, which grows until the first frost then drops dead. Splurge on the good stuff ($55 for 15 pounds of Kentucky Bluegrass seed), which resists drought, disease, and insects.
Water your new seed every day for 10 to 20 days until it germinates.
A late fall fertilization — before the first frost — helps your grass survive a harsh winter and encourages it to grow green and lush in spring. Make your last fertilization of the year count by choosing a product high (10% to 15%) in phosphorous, which is critical for root growth, Dillon says.
Note: Some states are banning phosphorous-rich fertilizers, which are harmful to the watershed. In those places, look for nitrogen-rich fertilizers, which promote shoot and root growth. Check with your local extension service to see what regulations apply in your area.
Instead of raking leaves, run over them a couple of times with your mower to grind them into mulch. The shredded leaves protect grass from winter wind and desiccation. An added bonus — shredded leaves decompose into yummy organic matter to feed grass roots.
A mulching blade ($10) that attaches to your mower will grind the leaves even finer.
Lisa Kaplan Gordon is a HouseLogic managing editor and builder.
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/articles/fall-lawn-care-tips/#ixzz1YXTFvTEt
Wednesday, September 21 2011
If you live in the Midwest, here are maintenance jobs you should complete every fall and winter to prevent costly repairs and keep your home in peak condition.
Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy, and keep all your home’s systems running properly. What maintenance tasks are most important for the Midwest in fall and winter? Here are the major issues you should be aware of and critical tasks you should complete. For a comprehensive list of tasks by season, refer to the to-do list to the right of this article.
Keep your Midwestern home free from damage by preparing for the constant cycle of freezing and thawing that occurs throughout fall and winter. “In fall, it’s important to do seemingly minor things that can have disastrous consequences if not done early,” says Frank Lesh, president of Home Sweet Home Inspection Co. in Indian Head Park, Ill.
Key maintenance tasks to perform
• Disconnect hoses from outside faucets. This keeps water inside the hose from freezing and splitting the casing, and it also allows the pipes inside the wall to drain completely so that water doesn’t freeze and crack them. Most outside spigots now are self-draining, but if you have an older home, you may have to manually turn off the valve inside the house to shut off the water so that it drains completely (this valve is usually in the basement or crawl space near where the pipe goes to the outside).
It’s important to remember this task, because you may not notice that these pipes have burst until you turn the faucet on in spring and water leaks into your exterior wall. If you’re lucky, Lesh says, you’ll have a major leak that will be noticeable right away; it’s actually worse to have a slower leak that allows water to drip slowly into the wall, where mold and rot can do extensive damage without your even seeing it.
• Seal coat blacktop driveways. The heat of summer may cause asphalt to expand and crack. If these cracks aren’t repaired, water gets into them and freezes, widening the cracks. Eventually, big chunks of asphalt will break off and repair will become more difficult and expensive, so applying sealant (generally every two to three years) is an important preventive step.
On a warm, dry day in early fall when you don’t expect rain for at least 24 hours, you should clear the driveway of debris, clean up any oil stains with detergent and a scrub brush (be sure to rinse the entire driveway well with a hose), and apply asphalt crack filler to individual cracks larger than 1/4 inch wide. Allow the filler to dry for at least an hour and then spread a coat of sealant over the entire driveway. Don’t use the driveway for at least 24 hours. Expect to pay $100 for the driveway detergent, crack filler, long-handled roller, and sealer needed to do the job.
If you have a concrete driveway, you don’t need to maintain it—unless it’s less than a year old. It’s very important that during the first year of curing, no salt come into contact with the surface; don’t salt your driveway and clear any roadway salt that gets thrown onto it.
• Clean your gutters. In the Midwest, this task is especially crucial because of freezing and thawing. “After a snowfall it’s typical for the sun to come out just long enough to melt the snow on your roof, which then drips into the gutters,” Lesh says. “But the water freezes before it’s all drained.” If your gutters are clogged with debris, standing water freezes and forces its way up under the roof shingles or into the eaves, which introduces moisture that can eventually rot the roof decking. Trapped ice and frozen debris can also bend your gutters so that they don’t drain well, or even pull them away from the house.
• Schedule your annual furnace checkup. Your technician should be able to tell you exactly what he’s going to check to keep your furnace maintained. Lesh recommends asking open-ended questions (“What specifically will you be cleaning?”) and making sure the contractor is checking fuel connections, burner combustion, and the heat exchanger. In the meantime, you should be checking your furnace filters monthly and changing them whenever they’re dirty. Inspect floor grates and return ducts regularly and clean them out with a vacuum cleaner brush. You may want to enroll in a yearly maintenance agreement with an HVAC professional that includes a fall furnace service and a spring air conditioning service. Otherwise, expect to pay $50 to $100 for a furnace tune-up.
You don’t need to prepare your outside air conditioning unit for cold weather because it’s designed to withstand snow and cold. In fact, if you cover your unit with plastic to protect it, you provide a place for mice to overwinter and gnaw through the unit’s wiring. If your unit sits in a spot that’s vulnerable to falling ice or heavy tree limbs, place a sheet of plywood over the top and cover with a loose drop cloth for protection; just don’t enclose the space completely.
• Make sure deck and porch boards are secure. Loose or warped boards are hazardous. Prop up low spots with wooden shims and fasten loose boards with galvanized deck screws
• Insulate your whole-house fan. If you use a whole-house fan to help cool your house, be sure to cover it when not in use with an insulated box or other cover. “If you don’t, heated air—which you’ve paid for—will enter the attic,” Lesh says. Introducing warm, moist air into the attic will then cause frost to form on the cold surface of the roof decking, which melts and drips onto the attic floor—your ceiling, in other words. Mold and staining can result.
You can make a simple fan cover from a batt of insulation; make sure it fits snugly over the opening with no gaps. For about $30, you can buy duct tape and a piece of 2-inch-thick polystyrene foam and make a foam box to fit over the top; 2-inch foam has an insulating value of about R-10.
Attic fans, designed to remove super-hot air from attics, are usually installed in the roof or gable ends of an attic space. Unlike whole-house fans, attic fans don’t require insulation, but fall is a good time to investigate whether animals have tried to force their way in through the screen covering the vent. Replace the screen if necessary.
• Scrape, prime, and paint. Lesh recommends painting wood surfaces early in the fall before the weather gets too cold and before winter’s moisture has a chance to do any damage. Scrape peeling paint even if you can’t get to the painting this season—water actually sheds better off bare wood than wood with peeling paint attached, which traps moisture.
• Prune back trees. After leaves drop, prune any nearby trees or bushes, especially if snowfall will cause them to bend and rub against the house. This can shorten the lifespan of your roof and siding.
Performing these important fall maintenance tasks can prevent costly repairs and alert you to developing problems.
Karin Beuerlein has covered home improvement and green living topics extensively for HGTV.com, FineLiving.com, and FrontDoor.com. In more than a decade of freelancing, she’s also written for dozens of national and regional publications, including Better Homes & Gardens, The History Channel Magazine, Eating Well, and Chicago Tribune. She and her husband started married life by remodeling the house they were living in. They still have both the marriage and the house, no small feat.
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/articles/fall-winter-seasonal-maintenance-guide-midwest/#ixzz1YXSNjNPY
Tuesday, September 20 2011
2011 continues to be a year of distinctly different halves. For the first five months of this year local sales, in units, compared to last year were down almost 13%. For the past 3 months the same comparison shows that unit sales are up over 12%. I believe that by year end we will have sold slightly more units than we did in 2010 and I’m positive that the dollar amount of sales volume will be significantly higher than last year; perhaps close to 10% higher.
The supply of homes for sale on the market has also been more stable and more in balance. For the 10 months starting last July there was an average of just over 10 months supply, with a high of over 13 months supply. Since May we have averaged just under 8 months supply with a high of less than 9 months.
I recently read an article in Inman News discussing the 10 markets nationwide that have fared both best and worst in housing price recovery over the past 5 years. The markets studied are all larger than our area, but not surprisingly when I compare our local data to the national figures we are very well. The worst areas consisted of 6 markets in California, two in Florida plus Phoenix and Las Vegas. The decline in prices ranged from 67% to 56%. The best markets were less concentrated and ranged from a 17% increase to a .6% increase. The study was based on July prices only. Locally our average July price was up 1.9% from July of 2006, which would have ranked us in the top ten nationally. While I don’t place a great deal of confidence in some of the national studies I see, I do have a lot of confidence in our market and I’m happy I live in the Midwest. I expect the remainder of this calendar year to stay relatively consistent for our local real estate market, even in light of some disturbing national economic trends.
We are pleased to report that for the month of September we have added 3 new listings. Our listing inventory is low compared to years past. This is good for our sellers. From our side we certainly would like this number to increase. We are kindly asking you to keep an ear out for any information you can pass on to us when you hear that someone in your circle of friends is interested to sell their home.
Please let me know if I can help or any of your friends price their current home or look for your next home. You can always find me at FCTuckerEmge.com or TuckerMobile.com, and keep in mind weekly area open houses are now posted at TuckerOpenHouses.com starting Thursday of every week.
Wednesday, September 14 2011
Unless you do your laundry in the buff, it’s one chore that’s never really done. Follow these laundry room storage ideas, however, and you can breeze through your dirty duds in no time.
Locate your washer and dryer as close to bedrooms as possible, and then make supplies a snap to find with these laundry room storage ideas.
1. Make space for your washer and dryer
Put your laundry room or area near bedrooms where you generate the most laundry so you can minimize steps and clothes clutter. To carve out space for a laundry station inside a bathroom or hall closet, you’ll need:
- Electric outlets. Electric dryers require a 220-volt dedicated outlet. Cost: $300 to $1,000, professionally installed.
- Plumbing. The washer needs hot and cold water connections as well as a drain or a hose fed into a standpipe. All dryers require a vent to the outside to exhaust heat from the drum. Gas dryers require a gas line. Cost: $300 to $550.
- Space requirements. For a stackable washer and dryer, provide a minimum space of 40 inches deep and 32 inches wide. A side-by-side washer and dryer need space measuring at least 40 inches deep and 56 inches wide.
2. Add cabinets for better laundry room storage
De-clutter by keeping laundry room necessities out of sight.
- Drawer units. Front load washers and dryers are easy on your back when elevated with base pedestals, which offer drawer storage. Pedestals usually are made by individual manufacturers to fit their brand. Cost: $110 to $265.
- Stock cabinetry. Home centers offer stock kitchen cabinetry that you can install above and/or beside the washer and dryer. For a laundry near the kitchen, select cabinetry that complements existing units. Cost: $130 to $350 per cabinet.
- Freestanding laundry room storage. To keep clutter out of sight behind doors, position a freestanding cabinet between or beside the washer and dryer. Some armoires feature hanging space inside.
- Extras. Equip a stock or freestanding cabinet with a fold-down ironing board and a holder for the iron and related supplies.
3. Provide laundry room storage bins, baskets, and more
- Bins. Canvas or solid metal bins keep small items corralled and out of sight inside a cabinet or on open shelves. Wire baskets make it easy to inventory supplies while keeping similar items together.
- Lined baskets. A canvas lining provides visual appeal and prevents wicker from snagging folded linens or other items you store inside.
- Pull-outs. Rather than bending and rooting around in the back of a base cabinet, equip it with a pullout hamper, wastebasket, or shelves.
- Sorters and hampers. You’ll find a variety of bins for storing and sorting soiled laundry, including canvas versions with an overhead rod for hanging clothes.
4. Include easy-access surfaces
- Open shelves. Melamine or wire shelves above or beside the washer and dryer provide a good spot for quickly accessing often-used supplies.
- Countertops. A countertop on base cabinets or installed above a front-load washer and dryer (that aren’t elevated on pedestals) provide a place for folding clothes.
5. Create space for hanging clothes
Include a spot to hang clothing fresh from the dryer or to drip dry. For example, stretch a pole between tall cabinets flanking the washer and dryer. For compact laundry room storage spaces, look for collapsible hanging units or retractable clotheslines.
Jan Soults Walker, a nationally published home improvement writer for more than 25 years, would rather hunt for flea market finds than the laundry soap.
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/articles/laundry-room-storage-5-naked-truths/#ixzz1XNxmYl5Y
Tuesday, September 13 2011
When you’re preparing to buy a home, it’s important to get your finances in order. Not only will you have to be organized to fill out the loan application, but you want to otherwise streamline your finances to improve your chances of being approved for a loan and qualifying for a lower interest rate and a larger mortgage amount.
In fact, how much you have for a down payment is pivotal to this determination as is an assessment of your existing debt. But this creates a conundrum. If you have both a healthy down payment and a fair bit of debt already, what do you do? Do you pay off the debt and put up a smaller down payment, or do you keep both the debt and down payment intact?
The answer to that question isn’t difficult, but requires a close examination of your personal situation, such as how much of a down payment you can afford, how much debt you have, what interest rate it’s at, and how big of a mortgage you want to qualify for.
The Application Process
When you apply for a mortgage, the bank or broker will take into consideration the income you receive on a regular basis, as well as the debt payments you currently have. This will give them a picture of how much money you can spare each month to put toward a mortgage payment.
Based on this, your other assets, your credit history, and your down payment, the bank or broker will determine how large of a mortgage they can offer you and at what rate.
Consider Jim, who is preparing to buy his first house. He has very good credit and takes home $36,000 per year after taxes. Jim also has credit card debt of $10,000, which has a minimum payment of $250 per month, but has no other debt. Jim saved up $20,000 to put towards his down payment and is looking for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. We’ll assume that home insurance costs $800 per year and property taxes are $2,000.
If Jim uses $10,000 of his down payment to pay off debt instead, he will qualify for a different mortgage amount than if he pays off no debt and puts the entire $20,000 down. Assuming Jim is able to qualify for a 6% interest rate, here’s how the numbers work out. Also, the consideration of private mortgage insurance, or PMI, does not significantly affect this comparison and is excluded for the sake of simplicity.
$20,000 down payment, $250 per month in credit card debt
- Monthly payment (including mortgage, taxes, and insurance): $830
- Total price of house: $119,519
$10,000 down payment, no debt
- Monthly payment (including mortgage, taxes, and insurance): $1,073
- Total price of house: $150,105
That’s a pretty big difference! Jim can qualify for a mortgage that’s $30,000 larger if he pays off his debt, even though his down payment is half the size. Why is the difference so large?
How the Loan Amount Is Determined
It has to do with how the bank calculates what you can afford to pay. Generally, the bank will take a percentage of your total monthly income (36% is common) and assume that is how much you can pay toward all your debt, including your mortgage.
In other words, your existing debt payments will directly reduce the amount the bank thinks you can pay towards your mortgage payment, homeowners insurance, taxes, and PMI, if required. Once they’ve determined how much of a monthly payment you can afford, they extrapolate how big of a mortgage for which you qualify.
Due to the nature of these calculations, the down payment only increases the total size of the mortgage you qualify for on a dollar-for-dollar basis. That is, if you qualify for a $150,000 mortgage and have an extra $10,000 to put down, you can qualify for a $160,000 mortgage. But since existing debt impacts how much the bank thinks you’re able to pay, it limits the size of your mortgage as well. In fact, paying off debt will increase the mortgage amount you qualify for by about three times more than simply saving the money for a down payment.
Thus, generally speaking, it makes the most sense to pay down existing debt if you want to max out your loan amount.
There’s another aspect to this consideration as well. The interest rate on credit card debt is often much higher than the interest rate on a mortgage, and it certainly holds true in Jim’s case. Moreover, you can deduct mortgage interest on your taxes, and thereby further reduce the rate you effectively pay on your home loan.
Since it’s almost always better to trade high-interest debt for low-interest debt, Jim’s decision from this perspective is a no-brainer. Not to mention that even if he puts the entire $20,000 down payment toward his home, he must still pay PMI, which is an added monthly expense if the down payment is less than 20%.
Read more here:http://www.moneycrashers.com/save-down-payment-pay-off-debt/
Monday, September 12 2011
Maureen from San Diego wrote in asking for help regarding a challenging situation—a family member needs a favor, but one that can potentially hurt her credit score.
Her brother lost his job about a year ago and has subsequently fallen behind on his mortgage payments. On top of that, the value of the property has dropped by about 35% since the home was purchased, and is now worth far less than what is currently owed. Despite attempts to find a work-around, the situation has reached a point where foreclosure is imminent.
Maureen’s brother has started the process of searching for new housing, but is concerned about his chances of being approved for a rental as he was surprised to learn that many landlords pull a credit bureau report and score as part of the applicant review process. His credit score is already very low, as his missed payments on his mortgage and other credit accounts over the past year are already reflected in his credit report.
[Article: How Credit Inquiries Affect Your Credit Score]
Maureen’s brother has asked if she would be the primary on the rental application given she has good credit (credit scores above 720) and has a better chance of being approved—while he would actually make the rental payments. Maureen wants to help, but has concerns doing this could have a negative impact on her credit rating.
Unfortunately, this situation is becoming more commonplace as the number of people in duress with their mortgage continues to remain at record levels. As family members, it’s natural to want to help and provide the best support you can, and yet it is equally important to think carefully about potential short- and long-term ramifications these actions could have on your own financial profile.
The impact on Maureen’s credit report/score if she were to sign a rental lease would likely be minimal. There may be a small number of points lost due to the credit inquiry that is posted on her file when the landlord pulls her credit report. Right now, it is relatively uncommon that the payment history (positive or negative) for rent to be reported to the three national credit reporting agencies. However, the rental entity could opt to turn over a severely delinquent renter to a collection agency, and that could end up being reported and would be considered negative by the credit score.
[Featured Product: Monitor your Credit Reports and Scores]
If your name is on the lease, it would be posted to your credit bureau report. In addition, there are other smaller credit reporting agencies that may be capturing such information and a lender may access it when reviewing your application for credit.
It is important to note that the person signing the rental contract is legally liable for making the payments, regardless of any informal agreement one may have with a family member regarding who will actually be paying the rent (this holds true for roommates, as well). That could have ramifications if you’re seeking new credit in the future. For example, completing an application for credit usually requires you disclose all of your monthly debt obligations and your signature on that application indicates you have truthfully disclosed that information. One could argue that disclosure of the monthly rental amount should be included if you are legally responsible for the lease.
The mixing of family and financial matters can be a recipe for angst and frustration. When surfaced, it is a best practice to carefully review and understand potential ramifications before making any decisions that could have unintended consequences.
[Resource: Get your free Credit Report Card]
Friday, September 09 2011
Back when I lived in a high-rise condominium, I had a simple television and a decent sound system – nothing special. After I got married, my wife and I moved to a single-family home and wanted to take the opportunity to create a truly remarkable media room in our basement.
We ended up spending plenty of money renovating our seventy-year-old house, so we had very little left over for a state-of-the-art movie room. Despite the tight budget, we built an incredible entertainment center.
There are plenty of companies ready and waiting to build your dream room, and they charge you tens of thousands of dollars to do it. However, if you want to save by taking on the project yourself, consider these five key elements of creating your media room, and the ways to exceed expectations without exceeding your budget.
Have you ever noticed how high-end audio stores always demonstrate their speakers in a special room? It’s no trade secret; the acoustics of your room have about as much to do with your perceived sound quality as the speakers themselves.
When you keep acoustics in mind for your room design, you can help contain sounds and minimize the penetration of outside noises by building a space that absorbs sound rather than reflecting or transmitting it. The key to incredible sound is how you cover the space, top to bottom.
Acoustic tiles are the ideal surface for your room’s ceiling. Visit any movie theater, and you will notice that their ceilings are covered with fiberglass panels much like the ones in the dropped ceilings you see in most offices. Fortunately, using these drop systems is the least expensive way to cover an unfinished ceiling.
Because of the low ceilings in my basement, I had to remove the existing ceiling first. Within the structure of the floor above, I added two layers of common fiberglass insulation. Two layers of insulation won’t retain much more heat than one, but packing in a second layer really helps to contain the sound. Though insulation is messy, it’s inexpensive and easy to install.
Next, I installed all of the hardware and wiring for the lights, speakers, and ceiling mounted projector.
Finally, I installed the drop ceiling made of standard fiberglass tiles. Most media rooms are black, to create a theater-like experience, and the hardest part was finding all of the tiles and hardware in black. I finally found a home improvement store that would special order it for me. If you are unable to find black panels, you can coat them with spray paint before installing them.
I completed the ceiling first so as to minimize the chances of damaging the walls or ruining the carpet. The total cost of our 150-square-foot-room was under $200.
Most modern homes have walls made of drywall, while older homes like mine have plaster walls. Both materials have terrible acoustics.
To fix the problem, I added inexpensive, lightweight acoustic boards that almost any home improvement store will carry. I then had my carpet installer cover them with thin, indoor/outdoor carpeting, like the kind you’d find covering the walls of many movie theaters.
Again, you will want to complete the walls before you start on the floor in order to avoid ruining your floor’s carpet. My total cost was under $500 for the acoustic panels, the thin carpet, and the installation.
If you have windows in your movie room, try to cover them to block out light. Room-darkening shades are a great option, especially combined with standard curtains. Alternatively, you can purchase heavier curtains that are lined to keep out light.
Read More Here: http://www.moneycrashers.com/home-movie-theater-design-installation/
Thursday, September 08 2011
The days of inefficient light bulbs are slowly coming to an end and recent tests from Consumer Reports showcase more than 30 different compact fluorescents and light-emitting diodes that can brighten indoor and outdoor spaces.
Consumer Reports’ CFL and LED bulb research found that many problems of the earlier versions of the bulbs have been overcome and that these new efficient bulbs last longer and use far less electricity than the traditional incandescent bulbs.
The Ratings put a spotlight on 60-watt equivalent CFLs and LEDs, as those are the most popular types sold in the U.S. Out of the two types of bulbs tested, CFLs save money faster due to their low cost. It usually takes less than a year to recoup the cost of most CFLs, according to Consumer Reports tests, while LEDs can take four to 10 years to pay for themselves due to the high cost of the bulb.
CFLs now have less mercury. The amount in the bulbs, Consumer Reports tested, has dropped 60% to 75%, compared with already low levels they found in 2008, without affecting performance. Nevertheless, spent CFLs should be recycled. Home Depot, Ikea, Lowe’s, and some ACE Hardware stores will accept used bulbs. If you break a CFL, follow EPA’s clean-up tips.
LEDs are the newest choice, with the highest price. The best LEDs were still as bright as the incandescent they replaced, yet only half were as bright as promised. Consumer Reports found that all LEDs reached full brightness instantly, even at frigid temperatures, providing warm white light that was unaffected by frequently turning them on and off.
Energy use matched or exceeded claims. LEDs are supposed to last 20,000 to 50,000 hours, or about 18 to 46 years when used 3 hours a day. Nearly all the LEDs are still burning brightly after 3,000 hours, and only four of the 100 LEDs stopped working.
CR Recommended picks include three that were also evaluated by 19 Consumer Reports staffers in their homes, the Philips AmbientLED 12.5W 12E26A60 60W, $40 for table or floor lamps, the EcoSmart LED Downlight 10.5W 65W E26 ECO-575L Dimmable (Home Depot), $50 for recessed or track lights, and the EcoSmart PAR38 ECS 38 Bright White 75W 866194 Dimmable LED (Home Depot), $45 outdoor flood light.
“You can find a CFL or LED that will give you the brightness and light quality you like, and it will save you around $50 over the life of each CFL and anywhere from $65 to $400 over the lifetime of each LED,” said Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home and yard editor at Consumer Reports. “Plus these new efficient bulbs last much longer than incandescent bulbs, so you won’t have to change them as often.”
How to choose
It isn’t socket science, but there are a few terms you need to know before buying any energy-saving bulb. Energy Star-qualified bulbs meet high standards for brightness, color, and energy use, and the mercury content is capped in CFLs. Additionally, a variety of federal regulations will be implemented in the coming years including a law that requires most screw-in bulbs to be more efficient by 2014.
Look at lumens. Watts tell only energy use, lumens measure brightness. In spirals, look for at least 450 lumens if replacing a 40-watt bulb, 800 lumens or more for a 60-watt bulb, 1,100 lumens for a 75-watt bulb, and 1,600 lumens or higher when replacing a 100-watt bulb. In floodlights look for a lumen count that is at least 10 times the wattage of the bulb replacing.
Don’t confuse brightness with color. The whiteness, yellowness, or blueness of light is measured by its temperature in kelvins. Incandescents produce a warm yellowish light with a color temperature of about 2,700K. At 3,00K to 4,100K range give off a cool, bright white light that’s similar to a halogen bulb, and 5,000K to 6,500K bulbs mimic natural or daylight, but can have a bluer tones that may be unflattering indoors. Use kelvins to get the right color light because terms like soft white and warm white mean different things to different manufacturers.
Note CRI. In addition to temperature, the Color Rendering Index indicates how accurately colors appear under the light and ranges from 0 to 100, with daytime sunlight at 100. Most of the tested bulbs are in the low 80’s; a few reached the upper 80’s and low 90’s. A CRI of at least 80 is generally recommended for interior lights, and differences of fewer than five points are insignificant.
Read the package. As of Jan. 1, 2012, a Lighting Facts label must appear on the packages of most bulbs to show brightness, energy use, estimated energy costs, expected life, light color in kelvins, and, for CFLs, mercury content. Note: Only the information on Energy Star bulbs has been independently verified.
Check for rebates and coupons. Visit www.dsireusa.org/incentives or www.energystar.gov to find utility rebates and search online for manufacturer rebates and coupons.
Keep your receipts. The bulbs are supposed to last for years, so save the receipts and UPC codes, which you will need to return a bulb to the manufacturer or retailer.
The full report is available for fans of Consumer Reports’ Facebook page.
Source: Consumer Reports
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/news/articles/consumer-reports-shines-light-best-cfl-and-led-bulbs/#ixzz1WjJzOpA7
Wednesday, September 07 2011
An annual check-up on your homeowners insurance can result in a healthier policy and a healthier pocketbook.
It’s time for your annual check-up. The good news is that for this one, you won’t have to don one of those revealing hospital gowns—and you may walk away with a healthier pocketbook. We’re talking about a homeowners insurance check-up, a task you should complete once a year, ideally around renewal time. This will ensure your policy still provides the right level of coverage for your family, and your premium isn’t costing you more than it should.
Remember, homeowners insurance is essential. The coverage is designed to protect your home and its contents, as well as shield you from liability for accidents and such on your property. Block out an hour of your time, call an insurance agent, and get answers to these three important questions.
What type of coverage do I have?
The most effective type of coverage is known as “replacement cost,” which covers, up to your policy limits, what it would take today to rebuild your house and restore your belongings, says Jerry Oshinsky, a partner at Jenner & Block in Los Angeles who has represented homeowners in litigation against insurers.
“Extended” replacement cost coverage provides protection to your policy limit, say $500,000, and then perhaps another 20% of the cost after that. Percentages vary, but in this example you could recoup up to $600,000 on a $500,000 policy, assuming your losses reach that high. Extended coverage can compensate for any unanticipated expenses like spikes in construction costs between policy renewals. Now harder to find due to the industry shift toward extended replacement coverage, “full” or “guaranteed” replacement coverage covers an entire claim regardless of policy limits.
A less attractive alternative is “actual cash value” coverage that usually takes into account depreciation, the decrease in value due to age and wear. With this type of policy, the $2,000 flat-screen TV you bought two years ago will be worth hundreds of dollars less today in the eyes of your claims adjuster. Kevin Foley, an independent insurance broker in Milltown, N.J., favors replacement cost coverage unless you can save at least 25% on the premium for going with actual cash value coverage instead.
Even if you have replacement cost protection for your dwelling and personal property, don’t assume everything is covered. Structures other than your home on your property—such as a detached garage or swimming pool—require separate coverage. So too do luxury items like jewelry, watches, and furs if you want full replacement cost because reimbursement for those items is typically capped.
How much coverage do I really need?
OK, now that you’re clear on what type of policy you have, you need to figure out how much policy you truly require in dollar terms. Let’s say you purchased your home five years ago and insured it for $200,000. Today, it’s worth $225,000. Simply increasing your coverage to $225,000 may nonetheless leave you underinsured. Here’s why.
The key to determining how much dwelling coverage you need isn’t the value of your home but the money you’d have to pay to rebuild it from scratch, says Carlos Aguirre, an agent for Liberty Mutual Insurance in Arlington, Texas. Call your local contractors’ or homebuilders’ association and inquire about the average per-square-foot construction cost in your area. If it’s $150 and your home is 2,000 square feet, then you should be insured for $300,000.
There’s no rule of thumb for how much your homeowners insurance should cost. Insurers use numerous factors—age, education level, creditworthiness—to determine pricing, so the same policy could run you more than your neighbor. In recent years the average annual premium was $804. Oshinsky advises against scrimping on insurance because big increases in coverage probably cost less than you’d think. He recently purchased a liability policy that cost $250 for the first $1 million in coverage. Adding another $1 million increased his premiums only $12.50 more.
How can I lower my premiums?
The higher your deductible, the amount you pay out of pocket before coverage kicks in, the lower your premium. Landing on the appropriate deductible level requires remembering that insurance should cover major calamities, not minor incidents, says Foley, the independent insurance broker. Most homeowners should be able to absorb modest losses like a broken window pane or a hole in the drywall without filing claims. If you can, then you’re wasting money with a $250 deductible.
Foley’s rule: If you’re a first-time homeowner and don’t have a lot of savings, moving up to a $500 deductible will probably stretch your budget. However, if you live in a ritzy home and drive an expensive car, then you should be able to afford a $1,000 deductible. In Milltown, N.J., for example, the premium for a $200,000 home with a $500 deductible would be $736, according to Foley; moving up to a $1,000 deductible drops the annual premium to $672. That’s $64 in savings.
Every major insurer offers discounts to various groups, such as university employees or firefighters. Figure about 5%. Ask which affiliations would entitle you to a discount and how much. If an AARP membership would result in a $50 savings, pay the $16 dues and pocket the $36 difference. Many insurers also offer discounts ranging from 1% to 10% or more for installing protective devices like alarms and deadbolt locks, for going claim-free for an extended period, or for insuring both your car and your home with the same carrier.
G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has been involved in insurance litigation. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Consumers Digest, Bankrate.com, REALTOR(R) Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, personal finance, and legal topics.
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/articles/homeowners-insurance-time-for-annual-check-up/#ixzz1Vln66sNJ
Tuesday, September 06 2011
Address the energy efficiency issues weighing down your utility bills, with help from an energy audit.
Homes are supposed to breathe. But some inhale excessively from the outdoors and exhale too much from inside. The result: Drafty rooms, high utility bills, dirty and leaky ducts, and a bigger-than-necessary carbon footprint. If you think your home could be more energy efficient but aren’t sure where its leaks live, an energy audit can diagnose your energy issues and help you decide which to tackle.
Audits identify a mixture of major and minor air leaks. So if you’re budget-minded, you might opt for inexpensive fixes like adding caulk or insulation at leak points and installing weather-stripping. If you’re embarking on a remodel, you can make bigger investments, such as adding insulation.
The question is whether to hire a pro or conduct a free do-it-yourself audit guided by online tips. There are pros and cons to either approach.
Paying for a pro
Professional audits aren’t cheap: They run from $150 (visual) to $400-$600 or more (diagnostic). But the information they reveal can help you make targeted repairs that lower energy bills by 5% to 30% annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. With energy bills averaging about $2,200 annually, according to Energy Star, following an auditor’s recommendations could save you up to $660 within a year.
Paying for an audit may not make sense if you have a newly-constructed home, which likely follows the most up-to-date building codes. Energy audits should also take a back seat to urgent home issues that compromise safety, such as old or faulty electrical or structural issues, like roof or foundation problems. So if you own a fixer-upper, it’s worth addressing safety issues before optimizing energy issues.
A do-it-yourself audit may help you make an educated guess about how airtight your home is—or isn’t—and point you toward fixes. A typical DIY test: Hold up a lit candle to windows, doors, and electrical outlets to see if a draft blows the flame.
But be aware that when you fix a problem you uncover yourself, you could err. For instance, you might pay for new windows when you need to insulate existing window frames instead. You could also over-seal your home, creating indoor air quality issues (dirty air, mold) that compromise your health.
Services of a professional audit
Pro audits give you access to high-tech tools that pinpoint the exact location of duct leaks; exactly how airtight your home is (and should be according to local code); gas leaks; and which direction drafts are blowing. Draft direction can alert an auditor that your attic is greedily sucking up your warm air, for instance. They also ferret out drafts between insulated and less-insulated (garage, basement/crawlspace, attic) portions of a home and assess the performance of heating and cooling systems.
Two types of professional audit
A visual inspection (like a home inspection, but focused narrowly on energy issues) might be sufficient if you have semi-finished or exposed spaces (unfinished basements, exposed ducts, crawlspaces, and attics). A diagnostic inspection includes visual work, but also employs tools and devices to pinpoint air leaks.
- Blower door tests use high-powered fans to depressurize a home so that a technician can measure draft levels.
- Thermal or infrared scanning measures surface temperature variations along walls to spot exact locations of air leaks or insulation lapses.
- Smoke puffers release a form of “dust” during a blower door test to reveal the direction drafts are blowing.
- Duct blasters inject and measure air pressure, air flow, and leakage in ducts.
- Gas leak detection devices help assess indoor air quality.
These technologies provide far more specific information about a home’s issues than a typical DIY audit.
Common energy issues
A technician should be able to tell you how much total air leakage exists in your home (10 sq. ft. is like having a door open all the time), where it comes from, and how best to address it, says Robert Stockmann, of Pinnacle Home Inspections in Bellingham, Wash. The most common issues he finds are:
- Ducts in uninsulated areas (crawlspaces, attics, unfinished basements), which need cleaning, insulation, re-sealing
- Moisture in crawl spaces and basements
- Air that’s entering or exiting the home via range hoods, attic trap doors, and poorly sealed doors
Hire an auditor, smartly
Energy audit is a loose term these days, so when hiring an auditor, ask questions. Make sure the auditor doesn’t work for a window company; has a professional affiliation with or training from an auditing organization such as RESNET or the Building Performance Institute; and can provide a written report. If you need diagnostic advice, ask if the auditor can use tools that assess what’s going on behind walls and inside ducts. Your local utility company may offer audits or be able to recommend auditors.
Because an audit is a precursor to further spending for repairs, if your DIY audit indicates you need extensive, expensive, or hard-to-do repairs, consider a paid audit as a kind of second opinion. Likewise, any paid audit that indicates you need only minor fixes may seem unnecessary—but if you consider that small fixes may keep you from overspending on major ones, the money may be worth it.
Jane Hodges has written about real estate for publications including MSNBC.com, Seattle Magazine, and The Seattle Times. In 2007, she won a Bivins Fellowship from the National Association of Real Estate Editors to pursue a book on women and real estate. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, CBS’s BNET, and Fortune. She lives in Seattle in a 1966 raised rancher with an excellent retro granite fireplace. Latest home project: Remodeling a basement bathroom.
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/articles/professional-energy-audits-the-costs-and-benefits/#ixzz1VlvZ1kK2
Monday, September 05 2011
Pending home sales declined in July but remain well above year-ago levels, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. All regions show monthly declines except for the West, which continues to show the highest level of sales contract activity.
The Pending Home Sales Index, which measures the number of home sales contracts signed, slipped 1.3% in July, but is 14.4% above the level seen in July 2010.
NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said sales activity is underperforming. “The market can easily move into a healthy expansion if mortgage underwriting standards return to normalcy,” he said. “We also need to be mindful that not all sales contracts are leading to closed existing-home sales. Other market frictions need to be addressed, such as assuring that proper comparables are used in appraisal valuations, and streamlining the short sales process.”
Regional pending home sales
The PHSI in the Northeast declined 2.0% in July but is 9.7% above July 2010. In the Midwest the index slipped 0.8% but is 18.8% above a year ago. Pending home sales in the South fell 4.8% but are 9.5% higher than July 2010. In the West the index rose 3.6% and is 20.6% above a year ago.
“Looking at pending home sales over a longer span, contract activity over the past three months is fairly comparable to the first three months of the year, and well above the low seen in April,” Yun said. “The underlying factors for improving sales are developing, such as rising rents, record high affordability conditions, and investors buying real estate as a future inflation hedge. It is now a question of lending standards and consumers having the necessary confidence to enter the market.”
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/news/articles/pending-home-sales-slip-july-strongly-one-year-ago/#ixzz1WRj65Now
Friday, September 02 2011
Tropical storm season officially started this month, so it’s a great time to double-check the disaster plan for your family — including your pets. If you leave them behind when you evacuate, they’ll most likely end up lost, injured, or killed, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
“Many public shelters that are set up for disaster victims don’t accept pets, so you need to find out in advance which shelters or hotels along your evacuation route will accept pets,” said Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for III. “It is tragic, but people have actually died because they were ordered to evacuate and did not want to leave their pets behind.”
Try these four tips to protect you, your loved ones, and your pets in the event of a disaster:
1. Have a disaster plan that includes these elements:
- Make a plan for where you will go and how you will get there.
- Map out your primary route and a backup route in case roads are blocked or impassable. Make sure you have a map of the area available.
- Put together a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians along the evacuation route and outside your area that might be able to shelter your pets in an emergency. Include emergency phone numbers.
- Talk to your vet, the humane society, or the local emergency management agency for information regarding community evacuation plans that include pets.
- Make advance arrangements to have a friend or neighbor pick up your pets in the event you are not at home when a disaster strikes. Plan where you will meet or how you will reach each other.
2. Make a grab-and-go disaster kit for your pets with these items:
- Medication and medical records (including proof of rabies vaccination) in a waterproof container
- Leashes, harnesses, crates, and carriers for transporting pets
- A muzzle, if your pet requires one
- Food and water for at least three days; a manual can opener
- Cat litter and litter box
- Recent photo of you and your pet in case you become separated
- Name and phone number of your veterinarian
- If you have pet insurance, the insurance company contact information and policy number
3. If you must evacuate with your pets, be prepared to leave early. If you wait for an official evacuation order, you might be told to leave your pets behind. As you evacuate, follow these guidelines:
- Make sure your pet is wearing up-to-date identification. Include the phone number of a friend or relative outside your area in case your pet gets lost and you cannot be reached. Mark the crate or carrier with similar information.
- Transport birds in a secure travel cage or carrier. During warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the bird’s feathers periodically. Do not put water inside the carrier during transport; instead provide a few slices of fresh fruit or vegetables with high water content.
4. After the disaster, do not allow your pets to roam after you arrive back home because familiar landmarks and smells might be gone, and your pet may become disoriented. Pets can easily get lost in such situations, so give them some time to get used to their “new” surroundings.
Be patient. Try to get your pets back into their normal routines as soon as possible, and be on the lookout for stress-related behavioral problems; if these persist, talk to your veterinarian.
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/news/articles/put-pets-your-home-disaster-plan/#ixzz1VIM1xf6p