Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tips for Yard Maintenance

Are you having difficulty keeping your yard looking healthy, but encounter dying grass or dead spots? Here are a few solutions to the problem.

Lack of fertilizer: if your grass is not fertilized correctly year round it will not use the water it gets and no amount of watering will cure this. If your yard is made up of a mixture of clay and a small but of topsoil, the topsoil becomes exhausted of nutrients very quickly and needs to be replenished. Try using a turf builder, such as Scotts Turf Builder ($13/bag @ Home Depot) and feed about 1/8th of a bag every 6 weeks. If you want to plant seed, approximately the top two inches of clay soil needs to be aerated (loosened) and/or apply a soil penetrant, then add top soul. Then add seed and cover with top soil. The soil needs to be kept moist until the grass has grown. Sometimes it’s just easier to re-sod problem areas.

Sprinklers: poorly maintained sprinklers may not water all the areas of your lawn correctly. The water pressure can change; try testing your sprinklers and adjust periodically. Your current irrigation system may be 30+ years old. There are new sprinklers that you can buy that can more effectively water you lawn. Or, try the old standby! Use a hose that is attached to a sprinkler and spray the problem areas. Many plants benefit from deep infrequent watering. Try multiple starts per day and water.

Rabbits: Rabbits eat the grass in certain spots and as they eat the grass in that area they also defecate and urinate which acidifies the soil and kills the grass. The rabbits usually come out in the very early morning around 4 am to 6 am. Please check for rabbits destroying your yard. If you find that rabbits are the cause, get some Vitamin B1 transplant fertilizer from Home Depot and spray on your lawn each time after you mow. This will make the grass taste bad to the rabbits. B1 is about $5/gallon and you can use about 3 tablespoons in a gallon of water.

For Buying or Selling, it helps to have a guide that gives you straight answers. For more information on buying, selling, or renting out an income property in San Diego, please call Frank Rashid's cell phone at (858) 676-5250 or email him at More to follow within the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

9 ways to keep lid on energy bills

Air leaks can infiltrate surprising places
By Paul Bianchina

No one likes wasting money, especially in these tough economic times. So it certainly makes sense -- dollars and cents -- to make a small investment of time and supplies to close up those heat-wasting air leaks around your home. It'll pay back big dividends in reduced energy bills and a warmer, more comfortable house this winter. So let's look at some of the areas where those drafts may be lurking, and see how to take care of them.

1. Doors and windows: This should be an obvious one. If you can see gaps between your siding and your windows or exterior doors, close them up with a bead of clear or paintable acrylic latex caulk. Larger gaps can be filled with foam backer rod before applying the caulking.

2. Exterior penetrations: Some of these areas are going to be obvious, while some may take a little bit of searching. Some examples of exterior penetrations where air can leak into the house include exterior faucets, dryer vents, exterior electrical outlets, exterior light fixtures, holes that have been drilled for phone and TV cables, conduit penetrations, exit points for plumbing drains, and penetrations for air conditioning lines. Closing these penetrations may require a variety of different techniques, including caulk, expanding spray foam, or, in the case of electrical boxes and fixtures, specific gaskets that are designed to fit the boxes.

3. Exhaust-vent covers: Dryer vents, range hood vents, bath fan vents, and other interior ventilation equipment typically terminate outside the house in a plastic or metal cover that has one or more louvers on it. The louvers are designed to be in the closed position whenever the fan is not in use, so that outside air doesn't leak in. Check all of these louvers to be sure they're closing completely, with no air leaks. If they aren't, you can adjust the spring tension to hold them closed more tightly; add foam weatherstripping tape for a more air-tight seal; or replace the entire vent cap with a new one.

4. Gaps around interior vents and recessed lights: Inside your home, heated air can be leaking out around that same ventilation equipment, where vent pipes pass through the walls or ceiling, or where vent covers meet wall and ceiling surfaces. Recessed light fixtures can also be real air-leakers. Around the vent pipes and recessed light cans, seal any gaps with caulking. For the vent covers and recessed light covers, remove the covers, then adjust the springs and/or add foam weatherstripping tape to create a tight seal between the cover and the ceiling.

5. Heat-duct penetrations: Gaps around heating-duct cans where they pass through the floor or wall allow cold air to enter from the crawl space, while gaps around ceiling-duct cans allow heated air to escape into the attic. To close those drafts, first remove the register, then use a combination of caulking and/or metallic duct sealant tape to close any gaps between the sheet metal cans and the floor, wall or ceiling surface.

6. Fireplaces and woodstoves: Lots of gaps can occur around these appliances. With a conventional fireplace, keep the damper closed except when burning a fire to prevent heated air from escaping up the chimney. Consider investing in a set of air-tight doors, which close off the air leaks and also make your fires more efficient. Look for gaps around woodstove and gas fireplace flue pipes, and air leaks around masonry chimneys. Use a metal collar if necessary around flue pipe penetrations, and seal gaps with heat-resistant sealant specially formulated for this application.

7. Attic and crawl space hatches: These can be real air losers if they're not weatherstripped, so take care of that with some foam tape. Make sure the hatches are insulated as well.

8. Interior doors to unheated spaces: If you have any interior doors that lead to unheated spaces, including basements, garages or attics, be sure the doors are weatherstripped to prevent air leakage. If possible, replace older, hollow-core doors with solid-core or, better yet, insulated metal doors.

9. Sill plates and penetrations: This one's not as easy to deal with, but it's well worth the effort to try to do whatever you can with it. Air can leak both into and out of the house through gaps where the sill plate meets the foundation or the siding, and around plumbing and wiring penetrations drilled through wall plates in various areas. If you have a gap between your siding and the bottom of your exterior wall, especially in older homes where the use of sill sealers was not a common practice, consider closing up this big air gap with a bead of caulking or expanding foam. In the basement, crawl space and attic, if you can access any of the pipes and wires that pass through the wall plates, seal the penetrations with expanding foam.

For Buying or Selling, it helps to have a guide that gives you straight answers. For more information on buying, selling, or renting out an income property in San Diego, please call Frank Rashid's cell phone at (858) 676-5250 or email him at More to follow within the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top 6 reasons mortgage applications are rejected

By Tara-Nicholle Nelson

Half of refinance applications are abandoned or rejected, as are 30 percent of purchase mortgage applications, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. All told, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) says that well over 2 million mortgage applications were rejected last year.

Want to avoid falling into that number? It's tough -- especially in light of the fact that mortgage lenders have become increasingly restrictive in terms of their lending guidelines since the housing market crash.

Here, as a cautionary tale and primer on what to expect, are the top six reasons mortgage lenders reject applications.

1. Income issues. Most failed applications falling into this category have income too low for the mortgage amount they are seeking; often, a spouse's credit issues can create this problem, too, as the income the spouse plans to actually chip in toward the mortgage cannot be considered by a lender.

But increasingly, the recent vagaries of the job market are also causing this issue, as people who have changed their line of work or have changed from salaried employee to freelancer over the last couple of years can also have their home loan applications rejected based on income.

2. Muddled money matters. If the mortgage for which you're applying plus your monthly payments on credit card, car and student loan debts will comprise more than 45 percent of your total income, you could have problems qualifying for a home loan. You might also run into problems if you rely too heavily on bonuses, overtime, cash wages or rental income -- all of these can be difficult or impossible to get a mortgage bank to consider, and if they do, they might not take all of it into account.

3. Credit issues. Today, the mortgage-qualifying FICO score cutoff falls somewhere between 620 and 660, depending on which lender and which loan type you seek. More than one-third of Americans, by some numbers, have credit scores too low to qualify for a home loan. Even if your credit score is high enough to qualify, if you have any late mortgage payments, a short sale, a foreclosure or a bankruptcy in the last two years, loan qualifying could be difficult to impossible.

4. Property didn't appraise. Since the whole industry had its hand (among other things) smacked for allowing home values to skyrocket in a very short time, appraisal guidelines have tightened up -- some would say, even more than overall mortgage guidelines. So, it is increasingly common to have the property appraise for a price lower than the sale price negotiated between the buyer and seller.

This is especially common in the refinance realm, as well over a quarter of U.S. homes are now upside-down, meaning the mortgage balance owed is greater than the value of the home. (If you're trying to refinance an upside-down mortgage, consider the FHA Short Refi program -- contact your lender or get referrals to any mortgage broker who makes FHA details to apply.)

5. Condition problems. With all the distressed properties on the market, and with most nondistressed sellers barely breaking even, more home-sale transactions than ever are falling apart due to condition problems with the property. Many lenders will not extend financing on homes where the appraiser points out problems like cracked or broken windows, missing kitchen appliances, electrical problems, or wood rot.

And in the world of condos and other units that belong to a homeowners association, if more than 25 percent of units are rented (rather than owner-occupied) or more than 15 percent are delinquent on their HOA dues, new applications for refinance or purchase mortgages on units in the development are likely to be rejected.

6. Technical difficulties with application. The days when lenders just took your word for it are long, long gone. Applications with incomplete or unverifiable information are doomed.

If any of these mortgage loan application glitches arise in your homebuying or refinancing process, it's critical that you connect with your mortgage professional, be it your banker or mortgage broker, to determine what course of action to take.

In some cases, it might be as simple as buying a stove you find at Craigslist and installing it before escrow closes; but with income issues your mortgage pro will need to help you determine whether it makes sense to pay some bills down, get a co-signer, or even wait six months so your income documentation will qualify.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman's Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website,

For Buying or Selling, it helps to have a guide that gives you straight answers. For more information on buying, selling, or renting out an income property in San Diego, please call Frank Rashid's cell phone at (858) 676-5250 or email him at More to follow within the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Triggers of Lender Scrutiny


IN recent years, lenders have stepped up fraud-prevention investigations and checks on mortgage applications. For borrowers, this may mean facing questions on actions like accepting cash gifts from relatives for the down payment or signing up for new credit cards during the application process.

The research firm CoreLogic estimates that fraudulent residential mortgage originations will total $7.4 billion in 2011; the number is nearly 40 percent lower than the $12 billion in 2010, though the company attributes the decline to a drop in mortgage volume. (Mortgage fraud involves falsifying information to obtain a loan you otherwise might not have qualified for.)

Fraud-prevention measures — mostly required by federal regulators — look into where you work and live, how you use credit, and more.

The investigation process typically starts when you first apply for a mortgage and lenders verify your identity and Social Security number, said Jeffrey Lipes, a senior vice president of Family Choice Mortgage, in Rockville, Conn., and the president of the Connecticut Mortgage Bankers Association. Further inquiries — an effort to obtain a copy of a brokerage account, for instance — may require approval or assistance from the borrower, he said, but mostly “the consumer is not even aware that we’re doing it.”

Lenders also check to see if a borrower’s name shows up on the government terrorist lists, among other things, and they check employment and credit reports — then check them again, within three days of closing.

What are they looking out for? Here are four common triggers to increased scrutiny, and what borrowers can do about them.

A LARGE BANK DEPOSIT Lenders are required by federal regulators to confirm that funds in an account come from bona fide sources, like a gift from your grandmother for the down payment. “We source it,” Mr. Lipes said — “find out where it has come from.” What constitutes a large deposit? That is based partly on your income, he explained. If you earn $5,000 a month and deposit an extra $10,000 beyond your paycheck, that may be considered oversized. Of course, if you were just married and received a bounty of checks as gifts, you might want have your marriage license on hand as proof, when you are providing your bank account information.

YOUR ADDRESS If you are buying a primary home three hours from Manhattan yet list your employment with a Midtown company, your case may draw scrutiny, said Jason Auerbach, the divisional manager for the Manhattan office of First Choice Loan Services. He suggests getting a letter from an employer noting, for example, that you are authorized to work from home four days a week. Likewise, a couple with three children who are buying a one-bedroom apartment may be scrutinized about whether this will be their principal home. Lenders want to make sure you’re the owner-occupant, not buying as a rental or to flip the property.

NEW OR UNDISCLOSED DEBTS When you’re in the process of buying a home, avoid taking on other debt. “Sometimes borrowers don’t think buying a new car prior to closing a loan is a problem, but it is,” said Carolyn Mitchell, a senior vice president of Aklero Risk Analytics, which provides software for mortgage quality control. Buying a sofa or a furnace on credit could also slow or even scuttle your mortgage closing, depending on your situation, if it pushed your total debt levels beyond acceptable limits.

INCOME ISSUES If you disclose that you earn twice what the average person in your occupation earns, you may need to document that discrepancy. Or if you used to be an independent contractor and were recently hired as a full-time worker, that might raise concerns, Mr. Auerbach said. It is relatively easy, Mr. Lipes added, to invent false documents that inflate incomes, so lenders routinely check with the Internal Revenue Service and other sources.

For Buying or Selling, it helps to have a guide that gives you straight answers. For more information on buying, selling, or renting out an income property in San Diego, please call Frank Rashid's cell phone at (858) 676-5250 or email him at More to follow within the next couple of weeks.