Should I buy first or sell first?

More than 71 percent of home sellers look at homes for sale while their current home is on the market, according to a 2017 Zillow report. Looking back, 24 percent of them said they wished they would have started the selling process earlier.

Most of these home sellers ran up against a common problem: Should I buy first or sell first?

Let’s take a look at just some of what you should consider and a couple of solutions.

Current market conditions

In a seller’s market (when there are lots of buyers looking for homes but few homes available) you’ll most likely not have to worry about the home selling. But, once it does, you’ll be joining the ranks of all the other buyers, competing against one another for the few homes on the market.

For this reason, many home sellers choose to rent for a time after selling, until the market changes in their favor.

Others can’t stand the thought of having to pack up and move yet again. Determine your tolerance for this scenario.

Finances

If you don’t have a large cash reserve, you’ll need the equity in your current home to purchase your new one. This means you’ll have to either sell your current home before buying or choose from among the other options we outline below.

The two-house payments conundrum

Another major concern we hear from our listing clients is that they’re afraid that if one side of the deal concludes before the other, they’ll be faced with having to make two house payments.

If your budget can tolerate this eventuality, then you’ve nothing to worry about. If not, read on.

Solutions to consider

Luckily, you have several remedies to choose from when faced with the “should I sell first or buy first” question.

Bridge Loan

A bridge loan is a short-term loan that provides instant cash flow. They’re typically only provided to borrowers with high credit scores and low debt-to-income ratios.

Learn more about bridge loans at Investopedia.com.

HELOC

The Home Equity Line of Credit, or HELOC for short, offers a way for you to get at all that equity you’ve built up in your current home. This is money you can use to buy the new home and then you will pay off the HELOC with the proceeds from the sale of the current home.

There are several disadvantages to using a HELOC to come up with the money for your next home. Speak with your lender and financial advisor about this option.

Borrow against your 401(k)

Ask financial experts if borrowing money from your 401(k) to come up with the cash for your new home is a good idea and you’ll get one of two answers: “Sure” or “No way!”

The latter camp includes pros who remind you about the fact that you’ll be losing the compounding benefits of your invested money. The former group will tell you to go for it because real estate is an amazing investment and, besides, you can pay yourself back.

Again, please speak with your financial planner before deciding on this option.

Negotiate with the buyer

It’s always worth it to attempt negotiating certain contract terms with the buyer of your current home.

Ask the buyer for a longer escrow, such as 90 days, to give you time to house hunt for the next home. You might also ask the buyer to consider renting your home back to you after the sale closes. Offer a healthy security deposit and agree to pay above-market rent to cover their mortgage payments, if necessary.

There are disadvantages to the rent-back scenario, so run this idea by your attorney.

Simultaneous close

Although it is often challenging, a simultaneous close is a common way of dealing with buying/selling. This type of transaction times the close of both transactions (the sale of your current home and the purchase of the next home) to occur simultaneously.

Yes, there are dangers in this option, especially in the hands of an inexperienced real estate agent.

Whether to buy or sell first is a common dilemma and both have their pluses and minuses. We’re happy to discuss this with you in more detail; feel free to contact us.

The bugs of summer and how to deal with them

Right about now, many of us are feeling as if summer is one big bug fest. If you’ve spent any time at all outdoors, you know what we’re talking about.

From grilling to hiking to even walking the dog, summer bugs are everywhere. Yes, they’re pesky, but even more important is that they put us at risk for bug-borne diseases.

Fleas, ticks and mosquitoes are the biggest culprits. Known as “vectors,” these insects spread the pathogens that cause West Nile Virus, Lyme disease and other “vector-borne” diseases.

“Disease cases from mosquito, tick and flea bites more than tripled in the U.S. between 2004 and 2016,”

according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

So, how can we avoid these pests while enjoying summertime in the great outdoors? Read on.

Protect yourself

When hiking, it’s easy to be distracted by a view or wildlife and common to want to blaze your own trail to get a better look.

It’s not wise, however. Experts recommend that you remain in the middle of trails when hiking or jogging. Ticks are especially notorious for hiding in tall grass and other vegetation.

Don’t use perfume, cologne or lotions and soaps with fragrance before heading out to enjoy the outdoors (these scents may attract mosquitoes). Wear the appropriate, protective clothing This includes:

  • Shirt with long sleeves
  • Long pants
  • Socks (that can be tucked under the pants to protect the skin from ticks)
  • Boots

Consider spraying your outdoor wear with a permethrin-based insect repellent. The CDC does not recommend that you use repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.

Before entering your home after a day outdoors, check all family members and pets for ticks. If you find one, remove it right away. Learn how to safely remove a tick and aftercare instructions at CDC.gov.

Right in your own backyard

Deer are the favorite host of the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), carrier of the dreaded Lyme disease.

“More than 14,000 cases [of Lyme disease] are reported annually,”

according to the experts at National Geographic. “Adult deer ticks, they continue, “are about the size of a sesame seed.”

If deer are common visitors to your neighborhood, discourage them from coming into your yard. You can do this by removing vegetation that is attractive to deer. Some of the plants that are popular among deer include:

  • Honey locust
  • Plum, apple, pear, persimmon and crabapple trees
  • White and red oak
  • Hickory and pecan trees
  • Eastern red cedar
  • Raspberries or blackberries

Plant fragrant plants (deer avoid anything highly fragrant) such as lavender, sage and salvia. “Daffodils, foxgloves, and poppies are common flowers that have a toxicity that deer avoid,” according to Catherine Boeckmann at Almanac.com.

Ticks may also take up residence in the lawn, so keep it debris-free by raking up dead leaves and mowing the lawn to keep it as short as possible.

If you’re still finding ticks and mosquitos in your yard after taking the previous steps, consider spraying it with a tick and mosquito control product.

Following these tips can help keep mosquitoes, ticks and other insects away for a bug-free summer.

The “20% down payment” myth

Money management guru Dave Ramsey advises that “The ideal way to buy a house is the 100 percent down plan—pay cash for the whole house.” Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us could participate in that plan?

The fact is, in February of this year, 77 percent of American home buyers used a mortgage to purchase their homes, according to RealtyTrac.com.

With a mortgage, however, comes the need for closing costs and cash upfront for a down payment. Many would-be homeowners hesitate applying for a mortgage, thinking they need 20 percent of a home’s purchase price as a down payment on the loan.

If you’re among them, we have good news for you: you can buy a home with zero down payment (if you qualify) or with a very-low down payment–3.5 percent in many cases.

Let’s take a look at some of the alternatives to the 20 percent down payment.

There are several ways to buy a home with NO down payment

Did you or your spouse serve our country in the military? If so, you may qualify for a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA).

Because the VA guarantees to repay a portion of the mortgage should the borrower default, lenders offer attractive rates and terms and a zero down payment loan.

The VA-backed loan is available to qualifying veterans, those currently serving and surviving spouses. Learn all the details at VA.gov.

USDA

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers several home loan options for low- or moderate-income borrowers. Neither require a down payment and the “catch” is that the home you purchase must be in a qualifying region, typically rural.

The home must also be “modest” for the area and generally excludes homes with swimming pools and other high-end features.

But, it’s an ideal way to become a homeowner, if you qualify. Learn more about these programs online at USDA.gov.

 

Use down payment assistance programs

If you don’t qualify for the zero down programs, you may want to look into some of the many down payment assistance programs available.

You’ll find many are offered by federal and state government entities as well as local municipalities.

Federal programs include help for teachers, fire fighters, medical personnel and police officers. There are programs for Native Americans, Alaskans and Hawaiians as well.

We’re happy to give you information on regional programs – reach out for more information.

Consider programs with a low-down payment requirement

If you don’t qualify for one of the zero down payment programs, pursue a mortgage through one of the programs with low down payments.

FHA

Lenders are far more amenable to loan money to borrowers with less-than stellar credit when the government guarantees the repayment.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), a department within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a loan program you’ll want to pursue if this sounds attractive to you.

Although the program has experienced several changes over the years, it’s still the most widely used mortgage program by first-time home buyers.

The down payment requirement for an FHA loan varies, from 3.5 percent to 10 percent of the loan amount. Which you’ll pay, depends on your financial situation and, naturally, each lender’s requirements.

The biggest drawback of the FHA mortgage program is that you’ll pay for being what lenders call “high risk” or “sub-prime” borrowers. This payment is in the form of a mortgage insurance premium (MIP) – an extra payment tacked onto your mortgage payment each month.

In the past, it was possible to get rid of the MIP when you reached a certain amount of equity. That changed in recent years and now the insurance remains for the life of the loan, if you pay less than 10 percent down when you purchase.

If you pay more than 10 percent down, MIP is cancellable in 11 years.

With a conventional loan, on the other hand, you can dump the MIP when you reach 20 percent equity in the home.

Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac started backing loans with a 3 percent down payment back in 2014 and 2015.

To snag one of these loans, you’ll need to purchase private mortgage insurance, your credit score will need to be at least 620 and you’ll need to agree to participate in home ownership counseling classes.

Questions? Feel free to reach out to us. We’re happy to help.

Summer home maintenance projects you can knock out in 10 minutes or less

Summertime isn’t exactly when we feel most compelled to perform home maintenance tasks.

Getting the easier ones out of the way now, however, will lighten the “honey do” list you’ll face in fall.

To make it even easier on you, we’ve put together a list of projects that will take you only 10 minutes or less to perform.

Let it slide

Squirt some lubricant on anything that slides, such as sliding glass doors, windows and doors once a year. But, first, clean out the “gunk” that’s accumulated in and around the tracks.

If you have vinyl windows, use caution, warns the Family Handyman. Oil lubricants can damage the vinyl, so he recommends using a dry PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) spray lubricant (such as WD-40® SPECIALIST®) “. . . on the contact points and wiping it off with a rag.”

Out of commercial lubricant? Use a small dab of petroleum jelly on door hinges. Again, this will attract and hold dust and dirt, so don’t use the oily substance on the window tracks.

 Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes

Some of the annual inspections that the experts recommend can be knocked out in less than 10 minutes. Do one every weekend and you’ll have this part of your home maintenance chore list whittled down to where you’ll have more time for fun on the weekends.

  • Dust and test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, according to the user’s manual instructions. Change the batteries, if needed.

 

  • Check the water heater for rust. Open the burner chamber and look for rust flakes. Also take a look at the flame – it should be blue. If it contains yellow coloring, the jets may need cleaning.

 

  • Test the ground fault interrupter outlets by pushing the “test” button. The “reset” button should pop out. Push it and you’re finished.

 

  • Check the garage door opener for safety issues. Bob Vila recommends pulling the handle to put the system into manual mode and lifting the door three feet from the ground. It should remain open. If it doesn’t, call a garage door professional. Put the system back into automatic mode and open the door completely. Place an obstacle under it, such as a garbage can and press the button to close the door. If it doesn’t stop when it meets the obstacle, call a garage door professional as soon as possible.

 

  • While you’re lubricating the windows and doors, inspect the weather stripping for signs of wear.

 

  • Scale can build up on the water valves under your sinks and behind the toilets and you can prevent this by turning each one off and then back on at least twice each year.

 

  • Open the breaker box and check to ensure there are no scorch marks around the fuses or breakers.

Only you can prevent home fires

Most home fires are preventable, so including safety maintenance chores on your list may save lives. All of these tasks take just a few minutes.

  • Check the clothes dryer ducts for lint buildup. Unplug it and move it away from the wall. Disconnect the ductwork and examine the opening in the wall for lint. Use a vacuum to clean out any buildup you find. For step-by-step instructions on how to thoroughly clean your dryer vents, visit bobvila.com.

 

  • Inspect the fire extinguishers. The experts at All State Insurance recommend that you inspect them at least once a month. First, check to ensure the safety and tamper seals are intact. Check the pressure gauge to ensure it has the proper pressure. Some extinguishers have a test button. Press it and watch the gauge to ensure the pressure is adequate. Finally, check the tank for signs of corrosion or leaking.

 

  • Check each electrical outlet in the home by touching them. If they feel hot to the touch, call an electrician.

 

  • Frayed wires are fire hazards so take a few minutes to check the cords on appliances, electronics, lamps and other electric products. Don’t run extension cords under rugs, by the way.

 

  • Inspect the fireplace flue for blockages, such as bird nests. Open the damper and use a flashlight to look for obstructions. According to Bob Villa, “You should be able to see daylight at the top.”

Take 10 minutes to perform each of these tasks and over the course of a few weeks you will have considerably shortened your home maintenance to-do list.

Summertime and the outdoor living is easy

If you’ve ever watched home and garden TV shows you may be dreaming of your own backyard makeover.

With a truckload of dirt, the outdoor designer transforms backyards into cozy relaxation areas, resort-like pool areas or elaborate outdoor kitchens.

Backyard design techniques are similar to those used when designing interior spaces, with the emphasis on function, comfort and style.

So, toss out the dinky, grease-stained charcoal barbecue and plastic lawn furniture and bring those backyard transformation dreams to life.

Dreaming of an outdoor kitchen?

Outdoor kitchens became popular a couple of years ago and the trend sees no end in sight. Sure, we’re still barbecuing, but now we’re an arm’s reach away from smaller versions of our kitchen appliances.

Along with those appliances, many homeowners are demanding a sink with running water, food prep areas and, quite often, a large stone oven.

Where will we eat?

Remember outdoor furniture from when we were kids? Picnic tables or plastic chairs to match a cheap plastic table were the norm.

What a difference a couple of decades makes! Today’s backyard might feature a dedicated dining area complete with gorgeous furniture. Perhaps you long for a weatherproof gazebo to top it off?

Outdoor dining areas are the star of the show when it comes to dinner al fresco. Twinkly lights in the trees, crackling fires in the outdoor fireplace and candles scattered strategically are just some of the lighting options we’ve seen.

Water features

A water feature in the garden can transform even the smallest space into a serene oasis. Fountains, waterfalls and ponds are just a few of the features homeowners are adding to their backyard retreats.

Find inspiration for your backyard water feature at Pinterest.com, BHG.com and CountryLiving.com.

Landscaping

Some elements of gardens have always lent themselves to outdoor living. Large shade trees can be a focal point in a garden, providing cool shade during the summer and interesting silhouettes during the winter months.

A carefully positioned shade tree also helps cool the home’s interior during the summer, saving you money on your power bills. The experts at Colorado State University claim that shade trees planted on the east side of the house prevent morning heat and, when planted on the west and southwest side of the house, they prevent heat buildup from afternoon sun.

While gardens and yards have always played an important role in American homes, more folks today see them as much more than play areas for the kids and dogs.

Yards are becoming an extension of the house – and furnished as if they were another room. What better way to lure you into relaxing while you’re at home?

7 tips when selling your parents’ home

One of the hardest things in life for us to come to grips with is that our parents have advanced into old age.

At some point in the not-too distant future, they will leave the home, whether through death or hospitalization. Then, it’s up to you to dispose of their belongings and the home.

Depending on family dynamics, selling a parent’s home can very easily be a situation fraught with potential problems.

Let’s look at some tips to make it easier.

Get it on the market as quickly as possible

There are several reasons this is easier said than done, and we’ll get into some of those below, but the longer the house sits unoccupied, the more carrying charges you’ll incur, such as property taxes, utility bills and vacant home insurance.

Get a head start

You won’t be able to obtain clear title on the property until a personal representative is appointed and is given the documents required to dispose of real property. While you wait, however, you can save time by making repairs and interviewing real estate agents.

Check out the home’s mechanicals

Elderly homeowners often can’t keep up with routine home maintenance, and the last thing you need during the sale process is a costly surprise, such as faulty heating or plumbing.

Be ready to dispose of stuff

Your parents likely will have accumulated many things over the years. Hopefully, they won’t have been hoarders, but even so, you’ll have plenty of things that neither you nor your siblings want.

It could be outdated furniture or your dad’s dragon collection. Every member of the family with an interest in the home should be involved in the sorting and disposal process.

It can be very sad to toss out things that meant so much to our parents and some family members may take it harder than others.

If you grew up in the home, bring tissues

Nothing we say will prepare you for the emotions you’ll feel when all is said and done and you close and lock the door to the family home for the last time.

Feel free to ask your listing agent for copies of the listing photos to keep as mementos. You may also want to take some of your own to remember special parts of the property that mean a lot to you.

Trust your real estate agent to list the home at its market value

Heirs often have dollar signs in their eyes and want to set the asking price too high, which can lead to the house staying on the market much longer, increasing those carrying costs.

Ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the asking price and how far everyone is willing to negotiate on price. This will save time during the process.

Don’t DIY it

As tempted as you might be to make money from the sale, especially if you have several siblings to divide it up amongst, let professionals help you. Surround yourself with experts, especially if you hope to make any money from the situation.

If you’re the estate’s personal representative, hire a probate lawyer to help with the many filings the court will require, and hire an experienced real estate agent. An agent is especially essential if you and your siblings live out of town and can’t be there to hire people to clean out the home and fix it up.

Give the home a nip and tuck

Although your parents’s home may be dated, place limits on the money you spend to fix it up. Giving the kitchen a total makeover, for instance, probably isn’t worth the cost involved.

But it will pay off to clean thoroughly, paint the walls and remove old carpeting throughout the house, especially if there are hardwood floors underneath.

We’re happy to help in any way we can. Feel free to contact us if you need suggestions on how to ready the home for the market and for a free determination of its current market value.

Hey Boomer: Can you retire here (and not starve)?

An estimated 10,000 U.S. baby boomers turn 65 every day. While many are choosing to continue to work, others retire, or at least contemplate it.

Have you considered what you’ll do on that day that you take down the shingle, hang up the work clothes and leave the rat race behind?

If you’ve spent most of your adult life here, working, raising a family and building a life, the thought of leaving may be intolerable. This is especially true if you have grandkids in the area.

Although the optimal time to begin planning the end game may have happened long ago, plan you must, if it’s this city that anchors your heart.

Can you afford to remain here?

Regardless of why you want to stay, the bottom line is always money, right?

You’ll need to estimate not only your expenses during retirement but determine your income stream as well and if it will support you down the line.

“I believe it’s critical that each person take the time to determine what their lifestyle plans are and do a little research to determine what the cost of that lifestyle may be in retirement,” financial wellness expert Frank Wiginton explains to the Toronto Star’s Lisa Wright.

Yes, lifestyle considerations are important, but they mean nothing if you can’t even afford the basics.If on the other hand you spent a lifetime building and nurturing your nest egg you’ll have a comfy landing when it comes time to go wheels down on the work world. And that landing strip can be anywhere you like.

Although the Internet is full of retirement calculators that are free to use, it’s important to depend on accurate and personalized information when planning for retirement.

See a financial planner who can analyze your current situation and let you know what to expect and counsel you on your options.

“ … what the government gives it must first take away”

Ok, let’s get the tax issue out of the way upfront.

The reality is that yes, Uncle Sam will still be digging into your pocketbook even during retirement. Of course, how much you’ll pay depends on a number of factors.

In addition to all of the taxes you’ve grown accustomed to, plan on paying taxes on your IRA withdrawals, pension income and annuity distributions.

If you have income other than social security, you’ll likely pay taxes on social security income as well.

The tax picture must be considered carefully if you hope to stay local during retirement because taxes will eat a major portion of your monthly income.

Learn more about taxes in retirement at TheBalance.com and Kiplinger.com.

Trim your expenses

With relocation to a cheaper area out of the picture and knowing that it’s going to cost you dearly to remain here in town after you retire, consider now how you can lower your cost of living.

This may include postponing retirement for a few years, working part-time during retirement, paying off your mortgage and downsizing your home.

Your biggest nut every month will be your house payment. Get rid it, if you can, by paying off your mortgage.

Of course your financial advisor may tell you we’re crazy for suggesting this, so run it by him or her before giving it serious consideration.

If you can’t swing the amount of money it will take to pay off the house, consider refinancing to lower your interest rate and, thus, your monthly payment. If all else fails, sell the home and buy a cheaper one.

It’s all about the budget

Getting those numbers out of your head and onto paper (or an Excel spreadsheet) can help you figure out where you are financially and whether or not you can afford to live here (or close by) when you retire.

A budget is the best way to do this. Check out retirement budgeting tips at Investopedia.com, U.S. News and QuickenLoans.com. You’ll also find a worksheet online at TIAA.com.

Again, we urge you to consult with your financial planner before making major changes and feel free to run your real estate-related questions by us. We’re happy to help.

What Happens After My Offer is Accepted?

After all the back-and-forth on price and haggling over concessions and repairs, it’s finally over and your offer to purchase the home was accepted.

Now, the real work begins.

Granted, you and the seller are no longer front and center on the home purchase stage; there are some details you’ll need to attend to after the offer is accepted.

For the most part, however, this is the point where real estate agents really earn their money and a good one proves that he or she is worth every penny.

Once you sign the purchase agreement and hand it to your agent, he or she will return to the office, check it over for accuracy and ensure signatures and initials are in the proper places and then get going on all the time-sensitive duties.

Escrow Opens

Quite simply, escrow describes a holding of funds or other items by a neutral third party to a transaction until they are distributed according to the principal parties’ instructions.

In the typical residential real estate transaction, the principals include the seller, buyer and lender.

To open escrow, the agent or her transaction coordinator calls the escrow officer, typically employed by an escrow or title company, to arrange delivery of the purchase agreement and your good faith deposit.

This is the point at which the clock begins ticking toward the closing date specified in the purchase agreement.

By the way, not all states use escrow. In non-escrow states, a real estate attorney handles these duties.

Title Company

Next, a title search will be ordered. This is, in a nutshell, a search of the home’s chain of title (from the present owner back to the original owner).

The title company is looking for any problems with the home’s title, now or in the past. An example would be a lien against the property, or an additional loan against it.

The title company will issue what is known as a Preliminary Title Report and deliver it to the escrow holder.

It’s up to the seller, however, to clear any problems. If he or she can’t or won’t, you can cancel your agreement to purchase the property.

Appraisal and Loan Process

While all of the above is happening, your lender will send out an appraiser to determine the value of the home and begin processing your loan.

It’s important to return your lender’s phone calls as soon as possible.

The Home Inspection

You’ll order a home inspection (or we can do it for you). Take your time when reviewing the inspector’s report and get all of your questions answered. We’ll be with you every step of the way.

Any adverse conditions revealed in this report, which may require repairs, will have to be negotiated with the seller.

Contingency Removal

While all of the above is happening on your behalf, without your involvement (other than to review the Preliminary Title Report and the home inspection and sign off on them), the next step in the process requires your involvement.

It’s time to remove the contingencies in the purchase agreement. Contingencies are events that must occur, according to the date listed in the contract, before the sale can close. Typical contingencies include:

  • Final loan approval – failure to obtain a loan will kill the deal.
  • Inspections – repair issue that arise from the home inspection are typically open to negotiation between the sellers. If the seller refuses to remedy any concerns you have the right to cancel the contract with the full return of your earnest money deposit.
  • The successful sale of your current home.
  • Appraisal – if the home fails to appraise for the amount you are borrowing from the lender you can negotiate with the seller for a lower price, pay a larger down payment or walk away from the sale.

Once the contract contingencies are removed you can still walk away from the deal but you will forfeit your earnest money deposit and possibly be liable for damages if your contract includes such a clause.

Just two more steps and we’ll be at the closing table!

Homeowners Insurance

If you haven’t yet shopped for homeowners insurance, it’s time now to take care of it. Ask friends and family which broker they use, if they’re happy with the price they pay and the service they receive.

Final Walk Through

You have one final chance to walk through the home to ensure that it is in the same condition (or better) as when you agreed to purchase it.

This is when we ascertain that all the agreed-upon repairs were performed and that no damage was done to the home during the seller’s move.

We’ll be there with you.

Closing

At closing you’ll sign a mountain of paperwork, but when all is said and done, you’ll be a homeowner.

Congratulations!

5 Tips for keeping your pool sparkling throughout summer

Summer is a busy time, what with trying to keep the kids entertained, work, and often, out-of-town visitors dropping in.

The pool is most likely the home’s focal point right now and getting lots of use. While you may not have time to give it a routine, thorough cleaning, break it down into smaller tasks to keep your pool sparkling all summer.

Use the skimmer

When was the last time you cleaned the skimmer basket? Allowing debris to build up in the basket is a lot like allowing your HVAC filters inside the home to accumulate too much “gunk.”

What happens in the pool is that the debris blocks water flow which, in turn, strains the pump and the filtration effectiveness plummets. Effectively, it shortens the life of the pool’s pump.

Routinely using a long-handled leaf skimmer will help take some of the pressure off the pool skimmer. Skimming leaves and other debris from the surface of the water is the ideal job for the older kids in your family.

How’s the water level?

As pool season wears on, you’ll notice that the water level in the pool decreases. This is due to a number of reasons, chief among them is the activity in the pool (splashing, etc.). Evaporation also occurs, especially during hot weather.

Now that you’ve skimmed the pool, check the water level and, if needed, bring it back to the proper level with water from a hose.

If the water is suspiciously low, check the pump to ensure it’s working correctly and shows no sign of damage.

“To make sure a leak is not the culprit, fill a plastic bucket three-quarters full of water and mark it; place the bucket in the pool, then mark the pool’s water line on the outside,” suggests the pros at NCRealtor.org

“Let it float for three days, and if the pool water level has gone down past the bucket’s, you have a leak,” they conclude. If this occurs, call a pool professional.

Additional cleaning tasks

Even with the most conscientious skimming, stuff may end up at the bottom of the pool. This is when a pool vacuum comes in handy.

Clean the filter before each use. Then, turn your attention to the pool’s walls, looking for algae growth and calcium deposits. Us a stiff swimming pool brush to remove these substances.

Don’t neglect the filter

It’s always a good idea to leave a bit of dirt in the filter. Sounds crazy until you understand that it acts as a trap for other particles.

Too much dirt, however, and the water isn’t filtered properly. Check the pressure gauge and flow meter. When it reaches 10 to 15 pounds per square inch, there’s too much dirt and it’s time to clean the filter.

The pool’s pH level

The pH scale determines the level of alkalinity or acidity and it runs from 0 to 14. Pure water is considered neutral and has a pH of 7. Higher pH values are alkaline while those lower than 7 are acidic.

The ideal pH level for pool water is between 7.2 and 7.8. Most DIYers use test strips that can be purchased at pool supply stores or at some of the large home improvement stores. Within seconds, you’ll know what you need to add to the water to adjust its pH

Perform basic pool maintenance routinely throughout the summer to keep your pool sparkling all season long.

Shopping for a home? 10 tips to help you avoid impulse buying

When we think about the impulse purchase, most of us picture a grocery store. After all, retailers purposefully set up their stores to encourage us to pick up and purchase items on a whim.  

If you, like millions of consumers, like to shop for fun, if you are status conscious or if you find that you spend money without thinking about what you are buying or why you’re buying it, you may be an impulse shopper, according to Ian Zimmerman Ph.D. at psychologytoday.com.

It’s one thing to grab a candy bar at the checkout stand in the grocers, but to grab a new home? Not good.

We see the tendency often in our real estate business. Clients who have a wish list that they swear is set in stone yet fall madly in love with a home that offers few of the items on the list.

Let’s look at ways to avoid giving in to the impulse to buy a home that doesn’t match your wants and needs.

The wish list

The most important features you want in a home go at the top of your home-shopping wish list. These are the non-negotiables – the extra bedroom, perhaps, or a community amenity you need.

These items should be in big, bold lettering so that when you glance at your list, there’s no way to miss them.

Not all these tips may apply to your situation, so use them as a guide to help you shop intelligently for that new home.

  1. Many homebuyers insist that appliances be included in the purchase of their new home. If you are among them, we’ll need to find out how old they are. Then, be nosy – peek inside the oven and inspect the refrigerator. This will give you an idea of how well the homeowner has cared for them.
  2. After the kitchen, home shoppers tend to spend a lot of time in the bathroom. Check these rooms carefully to ensure they will fit your needs. If you use electrical outlets a lot, check that there are enough and that they’re in the proper place for your needs. A blow dryer plugged into a socket 3 feet from the mirror won’t cut it. Is there adequate bathroom storage and lighting? If not, how challenging would it be to add these features?

  3. Speaking of storage, does the home offer enough of it? Check the closets, pantry and other storage areas to ensure they meet your needs.

  4. Flooring is often a sticking point in a home sale. Whether it’s not the material you’d hoped for (carpet instead of wood, vinyl instead of carpet, etc.) or the flooring is damaged, it’s important to not overlook this inspection. Flooring is pricey.

  5. Don’t be so awed by the kitchen’s staging that you fail to ensure it meets your needs. Picture yourself using it – does it flow the way you need it to? Is there enough storage?

  6. Lighting is another often-replaced item in a new home. Determine if it’s adequate and how much of it will need to be replaced.

  7. The condition and age of the HVAC system and the water heater are important as well. This is another very expensive fix or replacement.

  8. How do the schools in the area stack up against others in the region? Even if you don’t have school-aged children, nearby schools can impact the home’s value.

  9. Check your wish list for items you must have. For instance, if appliances are on the list, find out if they’re included in the sale. Never assume and always ask.

  10. Never allow yourself to become so enamored with a home that you ignore major problems on the home inspection report. These don’t necessarily have to be a deal breaker. With the right agent, negotiations may bring about a solution.

This is a very cursory overview of ways to keep your wits about you when shopping for a home for sale.

You can find a more in-depth checklist at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website. We suggest you print several copies – one for each home you view.