3 factors that may impact the sales price of your home

You can make all the necessary repairs to your home, clean it, stage it, maybe even remodel it. But there are some factors that may impact the eventual sales price of your home that are out of your control. So, regardless of how impeccably you’ve maintained the home and despite its ideal location, one or more of these circumstance may rear its head and dash those dreams of riches at the closing table.

Let’s take a look at three of the factors that may impact your home’s value.

 

1. The condition of the current market

You’ve no doubt heard real estate markets referred to as buyers’ sellers’ or balanced markets. A buyers’ market occurs when there are lots of homes for sale and few buyers competing for them. Since the buyer is in the driver’s seat, prices tend to stagnate or fall in this type of market. When the inventory of available homes is tight and there are many buyers seeking homes, we are in a sellers’ market and home prices rise.

So, what creates these micro-markets? Many factors affect both national and local housing markets, chief among them is the strength of the economy. When times are good, consumers have money to buy homes and home prices typically increase. In tough times, when unemployment is high and incomes stagnant, the real estate market will feel the pinch.

Then, there are interest rates. When they rise, many are priced out of the housing market and when they fall, folks clamor to buy homes. Therefore, the overall strength of the economy may help dictate the eventual sale price of your home.

2. Neighborhood changes

Your neighborhood, and the surrounding area, may look nothing like it did when you bought the home. Even the most careful research performed before committing to buy a home can’t foresee future zoning changes, the neighbor that builds an extra story on his home and blocks your view, or the sex offender that relocates to your neighborhood. All of these events can negatively impact your home’s value and, subsequently, how much you’ll receive when you sell it.

Suppose a change in zoning allowed a dump or landfill to be placed near your neighborhood. Nearby home values will drop by as much as 7.3 percent according to Business Insider’s Mandi Woodruff.

A power plant will ding your value from 4 to 7 percent, a sex offender as a neighbor will drag down your home’s value by up to 12 percent and, woe to you if a neighbor forecloses because, according to Woodruff, the national average loss of value of nearby homes is $7,200.

Now, some neighborhood changes should be applauded, at least by nearby homeowners. There’s even a name for the phenomenon: The Walmart Effect. The name typically describes the economic impact on local businesses when a big-box store, such as Walmart, moves into the area, but it’s been found to apply to home values as well.

So, if a Walmart comes to your neighborhood, rejoice – you may just get a 3 percent increase in home value, according to a study by the University of Chicago and Brigham Young University.

And cheer loudly when you learn that a Starbucks is coming to town and hope that it’s within walking distance of your home. Real estate portal Zillow found that between 1997 and 2014, the average increase in home value nationwide was 65 percent. Homes within walking distance of a Starbucks, however, saw a hefty 96 percent increase. Add Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to the list of please-come-to-my-neighborhood” businesses. If they do, your home may see a 17.5 percent increase in value.

3. Your real estate agent

While pricing a home for the market isn’t rocket science, it’s also not something that the inexperienced can do and meet with success. It takes years to learn how to properly research a real estate market, to learn how to find truly comparable homes and all of the various other factors that go into determining a home’s current market value. If your listing agent comes up with the wrong price, your bottom line is impacted.

Overpriced homes are notorious for eventually selling for far less than expected. Buyers’ agents know how much homes in a particular area are worth and won’t show their clients overpriced homes. So, they sit on the market. The listing becomes stale and agents and buyers think there must be something wrong with the home.

Underpricing is also a gamble. Sure, your agent may tell you that it will create a bidding war, but what if it doesn’t? Are you really willing to take rock-bottom dollars for your home?

After pricing a home, the number one job of a listing agent is to market the home to find the buyer that will pay the most amount of money the market will bear. Marketing not only requires know-how, but money as well. How well-positioned financially is your agent? Ensure that the agent you hire has a robust marketing budget and isn’t afraid to spend what it takes to get your home sold.

You’ll pay the same amount of money for the services of an agent who gives you bare bones service as you will for the professional – so choose wisely.

Smart home features: Are they worth the splurge?

In only three years, the number of Americans who claim to understand what a smart home is has jumped 53 percent, according to a Finn Futures survey. This doesn’t mean we’re all adopting connected home technology, however. In fact, the survey finds that 59 percent of Americans don’t plan on doing so soon and cite cost as the main barrier.

Yes, it’s pricey, but some features may just be worth the money, while others may not.

Smart locks

The Finn survey finds that 55 percent of respondents want automated, or “smart” door locks. Interestingly, these locks don’t make your home any more secure than your deadbolt does because they work with the deadbolt, not instead of it. “You’re paying for convenience (not necessarily security), according to cnet.com’s Ry Crist.
Depending on the type you choose, from key fob, password entry and fingerprint recognition to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi enabled, smart locks can be quite pricey so consider why you want one before purchasing. If it’s for the convenience factor, go for it. If you’re concerned about home security, forego the lock and invest in a smart home camera, an alarm system or motion-sensing doorbell instead.

Smart thermostat

One of the top smart home gadgets that the Finn survey respondents want is the smart thermostat (44 percent want one). What can a smart thermostat do that the trusty old programmable one can’t?
Make life more convenient is the obvious answer if you’ve ever tried to program a standard thermostat. Not only is it time consuming but they are limited in how many different programs you can use.

Smart thermostats, on the other hand, are connected to the Internet and controlled by other devices, such as smartphones. The number of programs you can use is unlimited and programming them is simple. In fact, if you purchase a learning thermostat, such as Nest, you won’t need to program it at all. It promises that after only one week, it will have “learned” your routine and automatically adapted to it.

We think it’s worth the splurge (about $249) because it helps save money on utility bills. In fact, three studies of the Nest Learning Thermostat, based on a comparison of utility bills from before installation of Nest and after the installation, showed that users saved an average 10 to 12 percent on their heating bills and 15 percent on cooling. Impressive enough for the Nest thermostat to become ENERGY STAR certified by the EPA.

Smart lighting

Coming in third as the most desirable smart home feature is smart lighting. This feature allows you to program the lights in your home to turn on, off and even dim via a remote device (such as your smartphone).

You may want to program the gadget to turn on the porch light at dusk, or as you ‘round the corner in your neighborhood on your way home from work, turn on random lights around the house when you’ll be out of town or, if you have a teenager that leaves a trail of lit rooms in his or her wake, turn off lights when someone leaves a room. In the latter case, smart lighting may save you money on your electric bills.

Smart smoke alarms

If a smoke alarm in a home is activated and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? It does if it’s smart and connected. Smart alarms send a warning to your phone, a handy feature if a fire breaks out while you’re at work.

We think they’re worth it mainly for the sense of security they provide but also because you may receive homeowner insurance discounts. Check with your insurance representative before purchasing a smart smoke alarm because some insurers have a list of those they consider “qualified.”

Homeowners aren’t yet jumping on the smart home bandwagon, but homebuilders are and don’t be surprised within the next few years to find newly constructed homes offering a full package of connected-home options.

Buying a condo with an FHA-backed loan

Most home sales go through without a hitch but there is always a chance that one will hit a snag somewhere along the line. Many of these are minor irritants, some are downright disappointments.

Few of the latter compare to falling head-over-heels for a condo only to learn that the community isn’t HUD-approved so you can’t use your FHA-backed loan for the purchase.

In reality, if you’re working with the right real estate agent, this shouldn’t happen; he or she should be checking the condo complex’s approval status before even showing you the home.

When it does happen, however, it typically leaves the buyer dazed and confused. Let’s take a look at what FHA requires of condo buyers that differs from its single-family home requirements.

The basic FHA requirements

Lenders have a tough job, especially when it comes to buyers using an FHA-backed loan to purchase a condo. Not only must it determine if the borrower is a decent credit risk, but it must also take into account the risk of loaning money for a home that is governed by a homeowner association. And, regardless of your credit worthiness, if the HOA has problems, the lender and/or FHA will deny the loan.

Some HOA problems that FHA frowns upon include:

  • A high number of rentals in the community. FHA rules demand that, at minimum, 50 percent of units must be occupied by the homeowner. In 2016, HUD changed the minimum to 35 percent, under certain circumstances. Learn more about those circumstances at HousingWire.
  • The homeowner association fee delinquency rate must be lower than 15 percent of the budget.
  • No investor/entity may own more than 50 percent of the units in the community, but only if half of the units in the community are owner occupied. So, if Warren Buffet or some random Saudi Prince decides to snatch up 52 percent of the homes in a condo community, the complex will be denied HUD approval.
  • FHA will not guarantee loan repayment on a condo community that is in litigation. Once the litigation is settled (which can take years), the community can be considered for certification. Litigation examples run the gamut from the HOA suing the developer for construction defects to the famous cases of homeowners suing the HOA for the right to fly an American flag and the proper disposal of pet waste.
  • The HOA’s cash reserves must be equal to or in excess of one-years’ worth of the association fees. FHA wants to see that the HOA has sufficient reserves to cover expensive repairs or replacements.

This is by no means the entire list of requirements, but represents some of those we most frequently come across. They are quite demanding – so much so that in 2013, about 60 percent of U.S. condo complexes seeking certification were denied, according to John McDermott of National Mortgage News.

Sure, it’s tedious, but the FHA process has advantages

Any home purchase requires a certain amount of due diligence. The buyer’s legal duty is to thoroughly inspect the property and the paperwork that goes with it, before going through with the purchase. Typically, the onus for this due diligence is on the buyer, but in the case of an FHA-backed loan for a condo, HUD does a lot of it for you.

Yes, you still need to read and understand every word on every document included in the HOA documents provided to you before you close on the home. While you’re trying to wrap your brain around covenants, conditions and restrictions, however, FHA will be poring over the financial solvency of the HOA. While they may just find something distasteful in these documents, knowing that they’re scrutinizing the HOA’s budget and other financials should bring you peace of mind.

Becoming HUD-certified isn’t a one-off task, either. The association must reapply every two years.

Finally, owning a home in a HUD-certified community makes it easier to sell down the line.

Avoid disappointment

If you’re toying with the idea of buying a condo with that FHA-backed loan, do yourself a favor and check out HUD’s list of certified communities. Then, avoid looking at those that aren’t on the list. You’ll find the online database, here.

Mother’s Day: It’s not supposed to be a Hallmark holiday

Blooming spring lilac flowers - spring floral background. Selective focus at the central spring lilac flowers, soft focus processing. Spring background with spring lilac flowers. Spring nature

This Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day and, like many holidays, it took the work of one tireless promoter to bring Mother’s Day to life. Her name was Anna Jarvis and she was a devoted daughter, committed to finding a way to pay tribute to not only her own mother (who gave birth to 11 children), but all mothers, worldwide.

The why of it all

The idea of setting aside one day a year to honor the women of the world who gave birth to and raised us was actually her mother’s dream and it instilled in young
Anna a resolve she couldn’t shake. Jarvis frequently recalled the day her mother, a Sunday school teacher and peace activist, gave a lesson on “Mothers in the Bible,” and concluded the day’s teachings with the following prayer:

“I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mother’s day
commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity
in every field of life. She is entitled to it.” 

Jarvis’ never forgot these words and recited them at her mother’s funeral in 1905, adding her vow that “by the grace of God,” her mother’s dream of a day to honor the contributions of all mothers – living and dead – would be realized.

A tireless campaign

Jarvis and her supporters started a letter-writing campaign to their city leaders and she used the podium in her church and other civic arenas to speak on the topic.

Her efforts were initially met with disinterest but she was not dissuaded. Finally, after enlisting the help of a Philadelphia philanthropist, John Wanamaker, Jarvis was able to breathe new life into the movement.

Two years later, her home state of West Virginia became the first to recognize a day set aside to honor mothers. Four years later, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating Mother’s Day, a national holiday, to be celebrated every year on the second Sunday in May.

Retail takes over

Jarvis’ mother, a woman devoted to the care of soldiers during the Civil War, was so fond of carnations that Jarvis chose the flower as the Mother’s Day symbol. White carnations were worn by those whose mother’s had passed away and red or pink carnations were worn to honor mothers who were still living.

The subsequent boost in sales led florists to take Jarvis’ ideas and run with them.
Soon after, other retailers jumped on the bandwagon and Mother’s Day became a heavily promoted holiday by retailers, urging the purchase of cards and chocolates as well as flowers.

Jarvis steps out

Anna Jarvis was appalled by the monster she created, soon becoming so irritated over the corruption of her mother’s idea and the exploitation of the sentiment that she – again, tirelessly – worked to have it rescinded. She led boycotts, threatened lawsuits and performed acts of civil disobedience, to no avail.

In 1925, Jarvis was arrested for disturbing the peace after a protest over the commercialization of Mother’s Day. Nevertheless, the never-married, never-a-mother Jarvis spent the rest of her life devoted to the repeal of Mother’s Day. To this day, Mother’s Day, as well as most of our other beloved holidays, remain hijacked by retail.

What you need to know about the FHA home appraisal

It’s safe to say anyone who was in the market to buy a home last year knows that 2016 was a hot and heavy sellers’ market across the country. We saw far more buyers than homes on the market to satiate the demand. And, while the conventional loan still remained the most popular among these homebuyers, the FHA-backed loan accounted for 17.5 percent of all purchase and refinance loans at this time last year.

As a testament to the program’s popularity, Q1 home loan originations last year decreased 8 percent over 2015’s level yet FHA’s loan share increased 7 percent — the fifth consecutive quarter with an increase.

Since so many homebuyers are using the FHA-backed loan, and there are many aspects of the program that differ from a conventional loan, today we’d like to clear up the confusion surrounding the FHA appraisal.

What is an appraisal?

Quite simply, an appraisal is an evaluation of a home’s current market value. Yes, real estate agents determine this value for their listing clients and use many of the same methods that a professional appraiser uses, but the home appraisal demanded by the lender uses an appraiser of its choosing and this person has the final say (usually) on how much a home is worth.

Lenders naturally want to ensure that the home they are lending money on is worth at least what the buyer is paying for it. To determine its worth, the appraiser will visit the home, taking a look at the structure, roofing, foundation, lot size, location within the neighborhood and more.

He or she will consider the home’s interior as well, verifying the square footage (which is actually determined by the exterior measurements of the home), making note of any improvements. Back at the office, the appraiser will research recent real estate activity in the neighborhood, comparing the home to those which have sold, to come up with the value of the home.

About FHA appraisals

Just as the lender wants to ensure the home is worth the money its lending, FHA wants to make sure the house is worth the amount it’s insuring. But, the FHA appraisal goes a step further – ensuring that the home meets HUD’s minimum health and safety standards.

Therefore, all homes purchased with an FHA-backed loan must be appraised by a HUD-approved home appraiser and certain property requirements must be met for the FHA to finally ok the purchase.

As mentioned above, most of these have to do with the “safety and well-being of the occupants,” according to FHA. These requirements include:

  • All stairways must have handrails
  • All bedrooms must have at least one closet
  • There must be “access/egress” from each bedroom to the outside of the home
  • The FHA inspector must find no structural problems, such as damage to the foundation or roof
  • The appraiser will check the lot’s grading to ensure that it slopes away from the home to prevent water intrusion into the foundation or basement
  • If the home was built before 1978 and the appraiser suspects it contains lead-based paint, he or she will look for chipped and peeling paint.
  • The heating system must be in good working condition

 

Now, if any of these requirements aren’t met, the appraiser will mark them as “subject to repair,” which means that the seller will need to repair the problems before FHA will insure the loan.

If the FHA appraiser determines that the home isn’t worth what the buyer has agreed to pay for it, negotiations on price re-open and there are a number of ways to approach them. If the seller doesn’t agree to fix the problems, on the other hand, the sale will not go through. Thankfully, unless the required repairs are prohibitively costly (such as adding doors or windows to provide egress to the home’s exterior), most sellers understand their obligation to make them so the deal can go through.

Are you a water waster? Water your lawn the right way

 

Ah, May – it’s that time of year that our gardens explode and those of us itching to get out and get dirty are in gardening heaven. First things, first, though: that lawn needs your attention.

Sure, this is the time to apply the first dose of fertilizer to warm-season grasses and the time to withhold food from their cool-season cousins. We may also start mowing in May and it’s definitely time to apply weed control to stop those broadleaf nasties.

Watering the lawn is essential – either too much water or too little can be detrimental to the lawn’s health and beauty. As a general rule of thumb, a lawn requires 1 inch of water a week. Now this advice doesn’t hold when the weather is hot and/or windy – grass needs more water during these periods.

So, how can you be sure that your lawn is getting its weekly dose of water without wasting the liquid in the process?

The basics

It’s common sense that the lawn needs less help from you when it rains. And, if you truly want to harness the power of rain to tend to the grass, turn the downspouts toward the lawn during rainy periods.

When there’s not enough rainfall, you’ll need to step in. To determine if it’s time, walk across the lawn and if your footprints don’t spring back but remain visible, it’s time to water.

When to water your lawn

Deeply and infrequently are the two most important words to remember when you’re considering when and how often to water your lawn. In addition to the footprint test mentioned earlier, you can check the soil to determine if it’s time to water by sticking a screwdriver or other long, sharp object into it. If it comes out damp, don’t water and try the test again in a day or two.

Then, avoid watering during the hottest part of the day, or, when the lawn gets the highest amount of direct sunlight, typically between noon and 3 p.m. Water is wasted by evaporation during this period. Water instead early in the morning, before it gets hot.

That 1-inch of water rule per week? Split it in half and apply it twice a week.

Don’t waste even one drop of water

So, you know when to water – and about how much water the lawn needs per week. Determining how long to run the sprinkler, drip system or other irrigation system to deliver one-half inch of water twice a week will require some testing.

Grab a half-dozen or more empty cat food or tuna cans and place them, evenly spaced, around the area to be watered. Turn on the irrigation system and allow it to run for 20 minutes. Then, measure the amount of water in each can and add up those numbers. Divide the result by the number of cans you used and then multiply that number by three. You now know how much water your lawn gets in one hour. You can then adjust the timer to ensure the lawn receives the required amount of water on irrigation days.

Two additional things to keep an eye on include avoiding puddling in the lawn. If the water puddles, the system is applying too much water, too quickly, and the soil can’t absorb it. Then, check the area that the sprinklers are hitting. You may need to adjust them to avoid wasting water on hardscape surfaces. Restrict the irrigation area only to the lawn.

Maintain the irrigation system

A hose-end sprinkler may be fine for a small lawn but it isn’t efficient for larger areas. The ideal system is low-volume with low angle sprinklers, according to the experts at Bayer Advanced. They recommend that you “Angle heads as low as possible to minimize evaporation.”

Inspect the system at the beginning of spring. Check the valve boxes for water (a clue there’s a leak) and the sprinklers themselves for clogs and leaks.

During the hot months of summer, water conservation is key to not only a healthy lawn but a healthy planet and pocketbook as well.

 

Hey Boomer – Selling your home? Do these 3 things first

advice for baby boomers

While the real estate industry is wringing their collective hands over how to attract millennials to the market, the boomer generation is actively buying and selling homes. The National Association of Realtors is, in large part, responsible for the disregard for the very real impact boomers are having on the industry.

The latest Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report, for instance, claims that millennials make up the largest pool of homebuyers in the U.S., at 32 percent. What the organization fails to mention, however, is that, despite the baby boomer pool being smaller, they broke it in half in their study, making their numbers appear smaller. If the truth be known, boomers lag millennials in the home-buying market by only 1 percent.

That’s only half the story, however. When it comes to home sellers, the baby boomer generation is large and in charge, representing 43 percent of home sales. If you’ll be a member of this group, and it’s been some time since you’ve dealt in real estate, take these three steps first to ensure a smooth road to the successful sale of your home.

Plan ahead

If you’ll be buying another home, planning ahead is imperative. Not only will the loan process be more challenging since you already own one home, if you’ll need a simultaneous close (timing the closing of both homes at the same time), the process becomes even trickier.

The “should I sell or buy first” predicament has several solutions, which we are happy to share with you.

If you’ll be buying another home, get the financing going

Now that you know how you’ll deal with your current home you’re better positioned to determine the loan you’ll need for the new home. It’s time to choose a lender and get professional advice and a loan pre-approval.

Keep in mind that when comparing mortgage rates, the advertised rate typically doesn’t reflect the rate with fees and points included. Ask for the Annual Percentage Rate and use that to compare loan offers.

Hire a real estate agent

If you’ll be undertaking two transactions (buying and selling), it’s important to take some time when deciding which agent to hire. Now is not the time to base your decision on familial or friendship ties. These are transactions that can either positively or negatively impact your finances and require the services of an experienced professional.

We understand that baby boomers typically have high expectations of those they choose to represent them and it’s important that you never compromise and that you make these expectations clear to any agent you interview. Sure, all real estate professionals should provide estimable customer service but, sadly, they don’t. Ask for references and then check with these former clients to ensure that their expectations were met in a timely and professional manner.

If you expect prompt returns of your phone calls, quick action to view homes for sale or crystal clear communication every step of the way, make it known to your agent.

Finally, we know you aren’t a doddering old fool and hope that you’ll never work with an agent who treats you as such. This is a vibrant and an important time in your life and you should only work with an agent who understands this and does everything possible to assist you, according to your dictates, down the road to your new life.

7 tasks to tackle before you move in

do this before you move in

Quick! What’s the first thing most homeowners want to do upon closing on a new house? If you said “move in,” you’re correct. Unless you bought a total fixer, moving into the new house is at the top of the list. But, slow down there, Skippy. You have a few things to take care of if you want to ensure that the home is safe and in move-in condition. These projects are best done before moving in, while the home is empty.

Change the locks

Since you have no way of knowing how many sets of house keys are floating around out there, changing the locks before moving in is a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how many new homeowners don’t do this. It’s an easy, quick and inexpensive way to have peace of mind.

Popcorn is for movies

You have to wonder who the genius is who thought up popcorn ceilings. Concocted in the 1950s as a way to hide imperfections, way too many homes are still plagued by them. They’re unattractive and almost impossible to clean.

Thankfully, ridding the home of the eyesore is a DIY project and there are three ways to get the job done, according to Katelin Hill of thisoldhouse.com.

  • Scrape off the offending surface
  • Cover the area with drywall
  • Cover the popcorn surface with plaster, creating a new texture.

Thisoldhouse.com offers walkthroughs of the three methods.

Paint the walls

It’s a rare home that comes with fresh paint on the walls so most new homeowners have “painting” at the top of their to-do list. And, if you’ll be laying new flooring as well as painting, do the paint first. Imagine not having to worry about splashed or spilled paint ruining the floors – if you’ll be pulling them out, you can be as sloppy with the paint as you like.

How are the floors?

If you need new flooring, and you have the budget for it after that big cash outlay at the close of escrow, now is the time to get it installed. It’s far easier to redo the floors in an empty home than having to find a place to stash your furniture while it’s being done after you move in. Even if all is needed is a steam-clean of the carpets, or a buff and seal of the wood floors, you’ll be glad you did it before moving in.

Fix what’s broken

Why live with the previous homeowner’s shoddy home maintenance problems? If something leaks, fix it now. Leaks are typically easy fixes, but if it turns out that the plumber will need to rip out a wall or floor to access the pipes, you’ll be glad you took on this project before you move in. Remember as well that the longer a plumbing leak goes unchecked, the larger (and more expensive) the eventual repair job will be.

Other easy-but-necessary fixes include tightening loose stairway banisters, checking the deck for safety, changing HVAC filters, dusting ceiling fan blades, finding the home’s fuse box and water shut-off valve and putting new batteries in all smoke alarms,

Evict pests

Whether the home has the occasional creepy crawly seeking shelter from the elements or it houses even creepier pests such as bats, rodents or reptiles, ridding the home of them before moving in is a smart idea. Especially if the “ridding” includes a toxic product, get it done now.

Many pest removal techniques are DIY in nature, while others may require the services of a professional. If you’re looking for a non-toxic way to get rid of insects, check out Prevention’s “12 Natural Ways to Kill Bugs.” Traps and baits are often effective remedies for rodent infestations. Call a professional if it’s wildlife that has taken up residence in the home.

Make it safe for the little ones

Take a tour of the home while it’s vacant, with an eye toward possible hazards to pets and kids. You’ll need electrical outlet covers and cupboard latches, of course, but where else do hazards exist? Will you need to buy baby/pet gates to block stairway access? Take a tour of the garage and decide if you’ll need to build shelves to keep chemicals, paint, sharp tools and the like up high and out of the reach of the little ones – both two and four legged.

Walk around the exterior of the home, taking note of what’s planted in the landscape. Plants, such as oleander, foxglove, rhododendron and even the charming lily-of-the-valley are toxic if ingested and, in the case of oleander, if the fumes are inhaled while burning the plant. If you have any doubts about the toxicity of a particular plant, check The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ large database of toxic and non-toxic plants.

Finally, check the fencing for any space large enough for a pet or child to squeeze through and the irrigation system to ensure none of the sprinkler heads are stuck in an upright position, causing a tripping hazard.

Sure, it’s frustrating to slow down the move-in process once the house is yours and you have the keys in hand. But taking a weekend to ensure the home is safe and habitable can save your family from safety hazards and from being inconvenienced in the long run.

 

Flood insurance: What you don’t know may be harmful to your pocketbook

about flood insurance

Ah, the paradox of water. We soak in it to soothe tired muscles, we relax to the sound of it falling on the roof, we frolic in it on the shores of lakes, rivers and oceans. Water nurtures life – without it we can’t survive.

Yet it can also turn deadly. When winter snow storms cease, the threat of flooding increases as the snow begins to melt and the rivers and creeks begin to swell. This is when we witness how powerfully destructive water can be. Flood, in fact, is the number one disaster in the United States, costing nearly $2 billion in insurance claims each year. The average claim is $46,000, according to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Sadly, only 15 percent of homeowners carry flood insurance on their homes. If you aren’t among them, do you have a spare $46,000 lying around?

Now, not all homeowners need the extra coverage that flood insurance provides. How do you know if you’re among them? Let’s take a look at some common misconceptions that keep homeowners from buying the coverage that may save them from financial catastrophe.

My homeowners insurance policy covers flood damage

Oh, does it now? “Standard homeowners and renters insurance does not cover flood damage,” according to the Insurance Information Institute. You’ll need to purchase a separate policy to be covered for this disaster.

Even if you have flood insurance, by the way, revisit the policy at least once a year to ensure that it provides the right coverage for your current circumstances. NFIP, for instance, covers up to $250,000 for the home’s structure and, for personal possessions, $100,000. It is the latter coverage you want to keep an eye on. If you acquire expensive items that might be damaged or lost in a flood, you may need to increase your personal possessions coverage.

Keeping in mind as well that even just a minor water intrusion into the home can cause thousands of dollars in damage, flood insurance coverage becomes even more important.

Flood insurance is too costly

According to NFIP, you’ll pay an average of $650 a year for the peace of mind you’ll receive from carrying flood insurance. Compare that to the aforementioned average claim ($46,000) and the choice as to whether to purchase the insurance or not is quite clear.

My home isn’t located in a flood plain

When you buy a home it’s smart to look into whether or not it’s located in a flood plain. Be aware, however, that “Many conditions can cause flooding: spring thaws, heavy rains, hurricanes and the rapid accumulation of rain after a wildfire are just some of them,” according to the experts at Allstate Insurance. It can happen anywhere. At any time.

In fact, one in five claims for flood damage come from homeowners who live in areas deemed in moderate to low risk of flood, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The danger here is that lenders typically won’t require flood insurance on homes located in these lower-risk areas. It is up to the new homeowner to protect herself.

I can’t afford it now – I’ll wait until it appears I may need it

Would you wait until after your home burns down to try to purchase insurance? Of course not, and, according to FEMA, “There is usually a 30-day waiting period after premium payment before the [flood insurance] policy is effective.”

There are exceptions to the waiting period rule and you can read about them on FEMA’s website.

It’s difficult to think about paying extra for your homeowners insurance when you’re in the midst of the huge cash layout that a home purchase requires, but the consequences of not being prepared for a flood can be devastating. Research the area in which the home is located and weigh the risks. Visit the FEMA website for information from the Flood Map Service Center to help you decide.

Upgrade your bathroom on a shoestring

update your bathroom

Kitchens and bathrooms are the workhorses of the house. Every member of the family spends time in each room, numerous times a day and, over the years, both can become worn and drab. Sure, they could use a remodel, but with the average cost of a bathroom remodel at $9,275, you may want to consider a DIY makeover instead.

Whether you’re putting the home on the market or just want to give it a new feel, and a complete bathroom remodel is beyond your budget, take a look at some of the ideas we’ve put together to help you spruce it up without breaking your budget.

Clean it up

Sure, it’s a basic suggestion, but a clean slate will help you see exactly where you need to start on your bathroom makeover. Clean the bathroom from top (yes, even the light bulbs can use a good dusting) to bottom.

Rid the counters of the detritus that typically collects there – the cosmetics, blow dryer, toothpaste and medicine tubes and bottles. If it’s not decorative, put it in a cupboard.

Take down the shower curtain and liner, remove throw rugs and towels and wash them if you’ll be keeping them.

Paper or paint?

What you do to your walls can be a game changer. Paint or wallpaper will instantly transform the space in a variety of ways, from making a tiny bathroom feel roomier to giving it an entirely different feel. Color, whether in paint or paper form, works wonders.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both wallpaper and paint, so take some time to consider carefully which you’ll use. Wallpaper is harder to work with than paint and it’s much harder to remove when you (or a homebuyer) decide they no longer want it. The advantage of wallpaper, however, is that it can provide texture and patterns that are much harder to achieve with paint.

Of course there are other wall treatments to consider if you’re not on a tight budget. These include shiplap, board and batten and others.

Whichever you choose, the walls are the second task after cleaning.

Shed some new light

New home builders aren’t particularly knowledgeable about proper lighting techniques. The ubiquitous Hollywood lighting strips in bathrooms are a perfect example of this. Women, especially, rely on proper lighting in the bathroom when applying cosmetics and lighting above the mirror is the absolute worse for that purpose, according to lighting experts.

These experts recommend attaching lighting sconces at eye-level on each side of the mirror. So, consider this when purchasing new lighting for the bathroom.

Update accessories

Depending on your budget, new accessories can include items as small (but with a big impact) as new throw rugs to a new mirror and faucets. Consider at least buying a snappy shower curtain and coordinating towels and rugs.

Ditch the plastic switch covers for some of the new ones that come in a wide range of finishes, such as aged bronze and brushed nickel. With a bit larger budget, you can quickly add new life to the bathroom by replacing the drawer pulls and cabinet door knobs to match the finish of the switch plates.

Finally, don’t forget those walls you worked so hard on – consider adorning them with artwork

Most homeowners spend between $5,534 and $13,040 to remodel their bathrooms, according to HomeAdvisor. With a little creativity and far less money, you can give yours a cosmetic makeover in just a weekend.