Tuesday, December 27, 2011

5 tips to stay on top of home maintenance

Where to find reliable contractors
By Dian Hymer
Inman News®

You're not alone if your roof is leaking and you're kicking yourself for not having called a roofer during the summer months. Most people have a limited concept of preventative maintenance. This can lead to big problems that end up being more expensive than if you had routine maintenance in place.

Many buyers don't understand that home maintenance goes with homeownership. When you rent, someone else usually pays for repairs. As a homeowner, you're responsible for keeping your home in good condition.

Unless you're handy at home repairs, it can be costly to maintain a home properly. But there is a benefit at the end of the line. Buyers pay more for homes that are well-maintained and show a pride of ownership.

It can be a hassle to properly maintain your home unless you organize and prioritize the projects that need to be done. You also need to set a schedule and stick to it.

Most home maintenance can be done annually: roof maintenance (including gutters and downspouts); sealing exterior cracks; weatherproofing; a furnace and air conditioning inspection; and inspecting and cleaning the drainage system.

Mark these events on your calendar so that they can be scheduled for about a month before you'd like to have the work done. If you wait until just before the rainy season to start your annual maintenance, you could have trouble finding good contractors to help you.

Don't wait until your roof is leaking to repair or replace it. There will be collateral damage to the interior of the house. Your homeowners insurance company might pay to repair the interior damage, less the amount of your deductible, but it won't pay to replace the roof. Too many claims could be grounds for not renewing your policy.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Assemble a crew of contractors and tradespeople who can help you with your home maintenance. It's not always easy to find reliable people who do good work. You'll end up frustrated and having to do more oversight if you work with people who don't show up or do the job right.

Ask your real estate agent or acquaintances who own homes in the area to recommend tradespeople to you. If the seller is happy with people who have worked on the property, ask for a list of names and contact information when you close the sale.

Homeowners who haven't the time or expertise to determine what needs to be done to keep their home in good shape could ask the home inspector that inspected the house for them to do a reinspection periodically to point out areas that need attention.

One of the keys to good home maintenance is to take care of critical items as soon as they become apparent. For instance, don't postpone repairing a plumbing pipe leak. Have it repaired as soon as you notice it.

Don't assume that because your house is new that you won't have any maintenance issues. If the gutters back up on any house, even a new house, water can leak into the house or down the inside of the walls. This, left unchecked, can lead to a major repair to the framing. If repaired right away, you may just need to seal and touch up the paint.

Likewise, even though you just had the exterior painted, you still may have areas that will need touch up every year or so, especially if they receive intense sun exposure.

THE CLOSING: Don't go for the cheapest contractor or building materials just to save money. If an inferior-quality job has to be redone sooner than anticipated, your savings will dwindle.

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 rashid@rashidrealty.com. More to follow within the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

6 Reasons to Google Your Address

With virtually any type of information imaginable online, it makes sense to do regular internet searches for your home’s address. There are at least six compelling reasons it makes sense to do so, especially if it’s an address you’re thinking of renting, buying or selling. Smart homeowners would do well to search for their addresses, too, and here’s why:

1. To See If Megan’s Law Registrants Live Nearby
There is plenty of information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders in their neighborhoods. Nearly every state that has a Megan’s law-­type sex offender registry has an online version that serves up the names, addresses, sex-­offense history, and even photos in many cases, of convicted sex offenders. Googling your address and “Megan’s law”-­-­ or even your city or ZIP code and “Megan’s law” -­-­ will turn up a quick list of nearby registrants.

2. To Find Crime Reports and Data For Your Home and Environs
City, county and state law enforcement agencies all post crime data online, but a Google search for your address or city and “crime reports” is most likely to turn up your local police office’s crime map. Or, you can check out Trulia Crime Maps for a crime map of recent incident reports for the whole city, ZIP code or neighborhood. The map is color-­coded to represent the intensity of crimes in each area.

3. To Detect Scammers Trying to Rent or Sell Your House
Internet scammers have taken to ripping off home information and putting together fake listings offering other people’s homes for rent or lease-­to-­own. They often list the home on extremely cheap and easy terms, then ask the would-­be-­buyer or tenant to please wire or send the deposit money overseas. These scams often come to light only after the homeowner or current resident notices bargain-­hunters checking out the place. If you start getting an inordinate amount of foot traffic to your home, or someone knocking on your door asking if they can see the place, you may want to Google your address. If you find a fraudulent listing, identify yourself as the home’s rightful owner and ask the offending site to take the scam posting down -­ stat!

4. To See What Your Neighbor’s Place Sold For and Possibly Lower Your Property Taxes
In real estate, the value of your home is largely driven by what is similar or how much nearby homes have sold for. If you search your address, Trulia will first surface some sort of image of your home, a map, the basic property details from the public records (see No. 5, below), and recent sales data for your own home before listing out the comps -­ homes with similar numbers of beds, baths and square feet near yours, and what they recently sold for. If you see a pattern of homes selling for lower than your home’s assessed value, you can use those comps to petition your county to lower your own property taxes!

5. To See Your Home’s Property Records Your home’s records online are populated from the public records about your home, which are either so old they don’t include upgrades and additions, or they’re just flat out wrong. If you Google your address, or search for it on Trulia, and find that your home’s description is riddled with errors, contact your county public record agency to correct them and edit your home facts on Trulia. This is particularly important if you’re planning to sell your home anytime soon.

6. To See Your Home’s Google Street View When you’re selling your home, it’s especially critical to see everything that prospective home buyers will see. That means checking out how your home’s listing looks on all the online real estate sites (yes, even on Trulia), checking out the flyer -­ even stopping by to check out any staging your broker or agent did if you’ve already moved out. One thing even the most savvy sellers don’t check out is the way Google Street View depicts your home. If you’re about to sell your home, and you notice that the street view is outdated, mention it to your agent, and ask them to make a note of that fact in the listing information.

© 2011 Trulia.com · All Rights Reserved

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 rashid@rashidrealty.com. More to follow within the next couple of weeks.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Calculate 'paybacks' before buying furnace

First, consider home's energy efficiency

By Paul Bianchina

Inman News™

Cold weather's upon us again, and you may be looking at changing or upgrading your old heating system to better deal with winter's chill. But what type of furnace should you get? There's actually quite a bit that will go into making that all important decision, and here are some things worth considering.

Understanding paybacks

Throughout the process of selecting a new heating system, and even when considering energy upgrades as discussed below, you'll be faced with the concept of "paybacks." It's an important thing to understand, especially if you're feeling pressured by a salesperson to choose a particular product.

Let's say you currently pay an average of $200 a month to heat your home for an average of seven months of the year, or $1,400 per year. Now let's say that a new, high-efficiency furnace, along with some upgraded insulation, will heat your home for $90 a month, or $630 a year.

That's a savings of $770 annually. If the new furnace and insulation cost $5,000, it would take you about 6 1/2 years for the savings to pay back the investment.

Paybacks aren't difficult to understand, as long as you're able to get the necessary numbers. This is something that your heating contractor and utility company should be able to help you with.

Deal with your home's energy efficiency first

How efficient any heating system is going to be at keeping your home warm is dictated by how energy efficient the home is in the first place. You can have a small home, but if it's drafty and poorly insulated, you'll need a much larger furnace than might otherwise be required in order to keep it heated. That means more upfront cost and higher operating costs.

So before you consider your new heating system, if possible you should complete any required energy upgrades your home needs. Your best bet is to have an energy audit done. The auditor will make a thorough inspection of the house, and will make specific recommendations for upgrades to insulation, windows, weatherstripping, and other components that will make it more energy efficient. Your utility company or heating contractor can often arrange for or recommend energy auditors in your area.

Fuel considerations

Next, you'll want to consider what type of fuel to use for the new heating system. Common choices include electricity, natural gas, propane and heating oil. Quite often, you'll opt for what the house currently has, but that's not always the best choice.

For example, you may currently have an electric furnace, but if natural gas is available in your area, you may find that to be more efficient. However, in your payback calculations you'll need to take into consideration the cost of having the gas line brought to your house, which may or may not be covered by the gas company.

Or you may be considering replacing an oil-burning furnace with propane, but in your payback calculations remember to weigh in the costs of having the oil tank removed and the new propane tank installed. With buried propane tanks, you also have the costs of excavating to consider.

Rating furnace fuel efficiencies

All electric furnaces work on electric resistance, so 100 percent of the energy they consume goes towards heating the house; the inefficiencies with electricity would occur in the power generation process itself, and in losses that occur as the power moves through the transmission lines.

The efficiency of oil furnaces has improved quite a bit in recent years. Changes in burner designs have resulted in efficiencies going from around 60 percent to something more like 80 percent today. However, these higher efficiencies often require upgrades to the chimney if you're planning to reuse the old one, so that's something that needs to be taken into consideration as well.

Most of today's natural gas and propane furnaces achieve efficiency ratings of 85 percent to 95 percent or more. So little heat is wasted with these units that they can actually be vented with plastic vent pipes. As you'd expect, with each step up in efficiency you also step up in initial cost, so that's something to take into consideration with your payback calculations.

Heat pumps and air conditioning

To add to the mix, you'll want to consider whether you want air conditioning. If so, be sure that the contractors are aware of that when they put their estimates together. Even if you don't want to add it now, if you're considering it in the future, you need to make sure the new heating system is compatible with it.

Another option worth considering is a heat pump. Heat pumps work like a refrigerator in reverse, drawing heat from the outside air and transferring it to your home. A reversing valve allows the process to work in the opposite direction as well, drawing heat from the house and exhausting it to the outside, so a heat pump gives you both heat and air conditioning.

Heat pumps generally work best in relatively moderate climates and can be very energy efficient to operate in those conditions. However, when the outside air temperatures drop too low, there's not a lot of ambient heat to draw from, and their efficiency drops quite a bit. Heat pumps can have a significantly higher initial cost, so you need to compare paybacks carefully.

Pulling it all together

For a project this complex and potentially costly, I'd strongly recommend getting at least two estimates. Ideally, the contractors should be bidding equipment from two different, recognized manufacturers, which will give you an additional opportunity to compare costs, efficiencies and paybacks.

Be sure you verify that all licenses, bonds, insurance, and other requirements are in place and in compliance with whatever your state requires. Finally, a good heating contractor should be able to offer energy advice for your home, and should be able to give you specific payback information for the cost of any system they're bidding.

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 rashid@rashidrealty.com. More to follow within the next couple of weeks.

Friday, December 9, 2011

With mortgages at 4%, demand for home-purchase loans rises

-- E. Scott Reckard

With 30-year mortgage rates still averaging a rock-bottom 4%, applications to purchase homes rose after Thanksgiving to the highest level in four months.

Freddie Mac's weekly report on home lender offerings, released Thursday, showed the typical rate for a 30-year loan at 3.99%, the sixth straight week at or slightly below 4%. Last year at this time, the 30-year fixed loan averaged 4.61%.

Fifteen-year fixed-rate home loans, a popular option for people refinancing homes, averaged 3.27%, down from last week's 3.3%. A year ago, the 15-year loan averaged 3.96%, Freddie Mac said.

The big government-backed mortgage buyer asks lenders what rates they are offering to borrowers with good credit and 20% down payments or 20% equity if they are refinancing. The rates are for loans of up to $417,500 with the borrowers paying about 0.75% of the loan amount in lender fees and points.

The typical mortgage rate for larger "jumbo" loans was running about a third of a percentage point higher, according to another report this week, this one from the Mortgage Bankers Assn. Jumbo loans are priced higher because lenders can't sell them to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the other big government-sponsored mortgage buyer.

Offering a bit of hope for housing at a time when foreclosures are drawing angry protests and government investigations, the mortgage bankers said applications for loans to buy houses reached the highest level since early August.

Refinances still made up about three-quarters of all applications for home loans, however.

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 rashid@rashidrealty.com. More to follow within the next couple of weeks.