Home-Buying Tips for Veterans

Veterans Day this year is November 11 (observed on the 12th) but to us, November is Veterans Month. And what better time to remind those who have served our country and their surviving spouses that the best mortgage on the market just may be the one that was created for them?

When comparing mortgages, especially when you’re short on cash, it just doesn’t get better than a loan that requires no down payment, the possibility of not having to pay closing costs and no private mortgage insurance requirement.

VA loan requirements are different from other loans, which many veterans find confusing. Because they don’t understand these requirements, even some real estate agents will try to steer military clients to other products.

Let’s take a look at three of the most frequently asked questions we receive about the VA loan.

What credit score does the VA require?

Since the VA doesn’t grant loans (it guarantees the repayment of a portion of the loan) it has no minimum credit score requirement. They leave that up to the lenders.

The good news is that because of the government guarantee, lenders tend to be more lenient with their credit score requirements.

Aim for a credit score of no lower than 620 and, remember, you would need a 740 or higher for most conventional loans.

Lenders also look at your ability to repay the loan. This includes an confirmation of:

  • Stable income
  • A debt to income ratio of no more than 41 percent. Even if yours exceeds this percentage, you may still qualify if you can prove “compensating factors.”

How much will I need for closing costs for a VA loan?

The amount the borrower will pay for a VA-backed loan’s closing costs varies by lender, the type of home, where you are buying and other factors, but plan on paying between 1 percent and 5 percent of the loan amount.

By the way, the VA limits the borrower’s closing costs to a specific list of items.

Although the VA doesn’t allow borrowers to finance the closing costs of their mortgage, they are quite flexible on who can pay them on behalf of the veteran.

This means that the seller or anyone else can pay all or part of your closing costs, quite possibly allowing you to buy a home with no money out of your pocket.

Speak with your lender about the various ways of dealing with VA loan closing costs.

Do I have to live in the home that I purchase?

Yes, you do. In fact, the law requires the borrower to certify that the home will be owner-occupied as the primary residence. You’ll have 60 days from closing to take occupancy, although extenuating circumstances may allow occupancy to be extended to 12 months.

By the way, for service members on active duty, occupancy by a spouse or dependent child fulfills the occupancy requirement.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. A PCS may allow you to rent out the home. Or, the borrower can apply for  an Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loan, which only requires that you certify that you previously occupied the home.

Contact the Regional Loan Center with any questions about the occupancy requirement. You’ll find yours on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

 The first step in the VA loan process is to obtain your Certificate of Eligibility and you can do that online or through your lender.

By serving our country, you earned this housing benefit. Take advantage of it.

 

Selling Mom and Dad’s Home

One of life’s most challenging aspects is watching our parents age. Then comes the day when you, and they, realize they’ve lost their physical independence.

Whether they are downsizing into a smaller, less maintenance-intensive home or are moving in with you or to a care home, giving up a long-loved home is wrenching.

Thankfully, they have you and you have us and we have tips to help your parent or parents — an you — through this tough time.

Get legal advice

You may be required to use the proceeds of the sale to pay for your parents’ care if they will be moving to an assisted living facility or long-term care facility and will require Medicaid to pay for their care.

Speak with your attorney early in the process to learn about the complex aspects of selling an elderly parent’s home.

Line up some labor

Cleaning out a family home is a huge job so don’t try to tackle this alone. If you have siblings, enlist their help. In fact, insist on it.

Not only will you need their muscle but having family around may help ease your parents’ transition as well.

Otherwise, hire some help. Visit the neighbors to let them know what’s happening and ask for a referral to local manual laborers. Who knows? They may volunteer to help.

Hire a real estate agent

It may seem that it’s too early in the process to hire a listing agent, but we disagree, and here’s why.

Your agent should see the home before you start moving things out of it. Advice on what to leave for staging purposes is invaluable.

Ask for tips on whether to paint, replace carpet and other updates that will make the home more attractive to potential buyers.

Your agent will also be able to refer you to an estate sale company (if needed to help get rid of belongings), cleaners, painters and more.

Hiring an agent early in the process also allows Mom and Dad to get to know the agent and feel more comfortable about the sale process.

Move first, then sell

Because it’s so important for the homeowner not to be present during buyer showings, most experienced real estate agents will counsel you to move your parents before putting the home on the market.

If they need the equity from the current home to move, however, come up with another solution. Perhaps they can stay with you or a sibling until the home sells.

It’s time to purge

Purging a lifetime of belongings (and memories) will be the most challenging aspect of downsizing for your parents. What to keep, what to get rid, of will be decisions not easily made.

“ … the problem isn’t denial, but rather, the extraordinary difficulty associated with giving up items that are so closely linked to their identities, their past and their memories,” claims Sarah J. Stevenson at APlaceforMom.com.

It’s not really the items, it’s the memories attached to them

One way to ease your parents’ reluctance is to promise them that you will photograph everything they decide to get rid of and place the photos in a lovely scrapbook that they can take with them to their new home.

Or, if they prefer, you can video their cherished-but-leaving items. This way, they’ll still be able to refresh those memories.

Still, unless the parent is suffering from dementia, it’s important to allow him or her to take the lead in the purge. Yes, it will be slow-going, but it’s important that, in the future, they don’t look back and feel they were railroaded into getting rid of certain items.

Gather family members together to go through your parents’ purge pile. As one elderly woman in an online forum stated, “It is SO much better to know cherished family things will continue on.”

Have conversations with Mom about these items and the stories behind them. This helps ease her anxiety and lets her know that the memories associated with the items will live on.

Should I Sell my Home and buy Another Now or Wait? 

We don’t need a crystal ball to tell us when to take the first step in determining if this is a good time to sell a home and buy another.

While market conditions should play a role in your decision, the first step starts with you, and the state of your finances.

Your Personal Finances

How’s your credit? Lenders have tightened their FICO requirements. Even FHA has raised the lower end of their acceptable FICO range.

How long have you been in your current job? Lenders want to see at least two years with the same employer, or in the same line of work and no decrease in income.

Next, do you have the cash to put down on a home? In this strong seller’s market you may be able to use the equity from your current home to fulfill the down payment requirement on your new home.

You’ll need at least 20 percent of the price of the home if you go with a conventional loan. If you obtain an FHA-backed loan, the down payment requirement has a lot to do with your FICO score.

That said, lending has become so tight that sometimes a stellar FICO score can’t make up for lower income, a spotty job record and even a huge down payment, according to news from the Wall Street Journal.

Don’t forget closing costs. These are the fees you’ll need to pay when you close on the purchase of the home. They vary, but a rule of thumb is to have 2 to 5 percent of the purchase price in cash reserves.

Timing the Market

If you’re trying to time the market so that you sell at the top, good luck. Nobody knows when a particular market will top out, until it starts its downward move.

But, there are signs in the economy you might want to watch, according to some experts, that the real estate market is changing. These signs include:

Unemployment

Housing market prognosticators keep a close eye on unemployment numbers. It’s only natural that people worry more when their jobs aren’t secure. This anxiety tends to make them hold off on spending money.

Consumer confidence typically lags right along with low employment numbers. When the jobs situation improves, so does the confidence of Americans and money begins flowing again.

Right now, unemployment is quite low. But these numbers only help us figure out part of the story.

The Housing Inventory

A “shrinking inventory” is a real estate term that describes a market in which the number of homes for sale decreases. Think of it as supply and demand.

When there are fewer homes on the market, prices tend to rise, which is a good sign if you plan on selling your home.

New Housing Starts

Homebuilders sit out tight economies. When people are back to work and spending money again builders begin new developments. While national new housing starts are important, keep an eye on the state and local trends.

While it’s wise to monitor economic indicators to help time your home sale to coincide with the top of the market, there’s also a danger in that. The only sure-fire way to know that we’ve hit the price peak of the market is when prices start falling. By then, it’s too late.

Real estate markets move in cycles and can take excruciatingly long to change, or they can transform almost overnight. The ideal time to sell a home is when prices are high and there is lots of competition from homebuyers.

That time is now.

Winter is coming – make sure you don’t have a gas emergency

If you leased a property with gas appliances in London, the landlord would be required, by law, to maintain the pipes, appliances and flues. Additionally, he or she would be required to have a gas safety check every year and supply you with a record of such within 28 days of it being performed.

Those Londoners are pretty smart cookies considering that gas problems can kill, and then there’s the massive property damage or even destruction that may occur.

Anytime you smell gas, it’s an emergency. But odor isn’t the only sign that there may be a gas leak. Pacific Gas and Electric in California suggests that you call your utility if any of the following occur:

  • Whistling or hissing sounds.
  • Damage to the connections to gas appliances.
  • Dead or dying vegetation over or near pipeline areas.
  • Exposed pipeline (typically after an earthquake).

Yes, you can prevent gas emergencies

Your first line of defense in preventing a gas emergency is to know what to look (and smell) for. A rotten egg smell is the most common sign of a gas leak.

If you suspect a gas leak, don’t touch anything, especially light switches. But, touching anything may cause a spark, so quickly and gently leave the home immediately.

Once you are a safe distance away, call the gas company (or 911 if you can’t reach the gas company).

Maintenance of your property may help prevent the most serious gas problems. Tasks include:

  • Maintain gas pipes to prevent corrosion and leakage. Have the gas pipes inspected periodically for signs of corrosion and leakage.
  • Have your gas appliances inspected and cleaned periodically by an authorized service technician. Most appliance manufacturers recommend having their products serviced every one to two years.
  • A gas stove will produce a red or yellow flame only when it requires service. If pilot lights frequently blow out, the stove requires service.
  • Clogged dryer lint traps cause fires. They need to be cleaned out before each use.
  • If you have a gas fireplace, have the chimney inspected annually. Blockages, such as birds’ nests, can create inadequate ventilation of combustible fumes.
  • Have your heating system inspected annually to ensure that it is clean and properly vented and replace worn parts.
  • Replace the furnace and return air filters every 90 days unless there are pets on the property. In this case, filters should be replaced every 60 days.

Failure to perform maintenance not only presents a real danger to you and your family but to your pocketbook as well. The average price, nationwide, to repair a gas line is $482, with most property owners spending between $261 and $737.

Gas furnaces cost anywhere from $2,500 to $14,000 and the installation may run you another $1,000 to $4,200, depending on the scope of the job.

A new gas water heater will cost from $400 to $2,000, but then you will need to consider the installation costs. “It can cost anywhere from $700 to $2,000 to install a water heater,” Jason Hanleybrown, CEO of Fast Water Heater Co. in Bothell, Wash. tells Angie’s List’s Joshua Palmer.

What are you looking for in a home?

When I bought my first home my priorities included a big backyard and the home had to be single-story. Yes, I was young, and obviously not too bright. I ended up with the backyard of my dreams in a single-story home that otherwise didn’t fit my lifestyle or tastes.

What’s your hot button?

Yes, it seems to be a simple question, but it turns out that the answer is complex.

Impulse buying is real. Retailers know this and take advantage of our tendency by using in-store cues to direct us to impulse buys. From magazines to peruse (and hopefully throw into your cart) as you wait in line to that snazzy lemon squeezer right next to the lemons in the produce department, impulse buys are everywhere.

The same holds true when shopping for a home. In the hands of a savvy real estate agent, a home for sale is presented in the best light possible. Trendy paint colors, strategic lighting and the presentation of a certain lifestyle are sure to appeal to many buyers. If the home appears to be in move-in condition, it’s even more appealing.

Avoid these strategic distractions by being absolutely clear on what you want and need in a home. This requires making a list.

But, this isn’t necessarily a shopping list, which is actually a list of needs. Think of it as more of a menu – a list of both wants and needs, with the latter prioritized.

Create your menu

This list should contain those features of a home and a neighborhood that are most important to you and your lifestyle.

Let’s start with the location. To do that, you’ll need to understand what type of structure you want to buy You typically won’t find mobile homes in the downtown area or condos in suburban neighborhoods. So, make this decision first:

  • Condo
  • Single-family house
  • Duplex
  • Townhouse
  • Mobile home

Now you’ll need to construct that menu. Remember, your needs take priority, but there’s also room on the menu for “desert,” those things that would be nice to have, if possible. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Should the home be one story or are multiple floors ok?
  • Square footage needed
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms required
  • Work from home? Put a home office on the menu
  • Preferred yard size
  • Do you need a garage? One, two or three-car?
  • Additional amenities, such as a pool (on site or nearby?)
  • Commute time
  • Proximity to public transportation, schools, parks, etc.

Now, edit the list, placing priorities at the top. These are items that you absolutely cannot do without. For instance, earlier I mentioned that my priority was a big backyard. I got it, but I also got a lousy floor plan because I hadn’t taken the time to figure out its importance to me.

What’s important to other members of the family? You’ll all need to agree on which of their dream list items they’ll be willing to compromise on, if the need arises. And, it most likely will.

What are you looking for in a home? Take the time to figure it out, in detail, stick to the list, and you won’t regret purchasing your new home.

Is your home making you sick?

Would it surprise you to learn that 1.2 million American children have elevated levels of lead in their blood?

Lead poisoning sounds like something from out of the past, like polio or leprosy. But, apparently, it’s still very much in the present, and very, very dangerous.

If your home was built before 1978 the paint on your walls may contain lead. If you purchased the home after 1996, you were made aware of the potential harm from lead-based paint when the seller gave you a Lead Based Paint disclosure, required by law.

So, what’s the big deal about lead?

Lead poisoning for starters. There isn’t a lot of talk about it in the media, but an estimated 412,000 Americans die every year because of lead contamination, according to a study published in Lancet Public Health.

Old paint naturally deteriorates and, as it does, it creates dust. Infants and children can become lead poisoned if they eat contaminated paint chips or put their fingers, contaminated with lead paint dust, into their mouths.

Then, there is the lead in soil which, especially in urban areas, can be quite toxic.

“Lead affects virtually every system in the body”

according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Despite efforts to mitigate the presence of lead in homes, however, the CDC claims that “large numbers of children in the United States continue to have blood lead levels in the toxic range.”

Because babies and toddlers are experience rapid growth, their bodies tend to absorb lead easier than we adults do, and their nervous systems react strongly to it. Lead exposure may result in:

  • Anemia
  • Behavioral problems
  • Coma
  • Death (in severe cases)
  • Hearing problems
  • Learning problems
  • Lower IQ
  • Seizures
  • Slow growth

Adults, however, aren’t immune from the effects of lead exposure. “People with prolonged exposure to lead may also be at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s especially dangerous to pregnant women and developing fetuses. Much like how a pregnant woman’s body releases calcium to help form the developing baby’s bones, so too will it release lead if she’s absorbed it in the past. It then crosses the placental barrier, possibly harming the fetus.

How does lead get into the home?

Not only is it present in the aforementioned paint, but we track the nasty dust into our homes via our shoes. The EPA conducted a doormat study that found a 60 percent reduction in levels of lead dust in homes when shoes are removed before entering the home, or a dust mat is provided at the door.

Even the drinking water in our homes and your children’s toys (especially those made in China) may harbor lead.

How to find out if there’s lead in your home

Whether you are considering a home for sale or just need to know if there is lead present in your current home, an accredited laboratory can help you find out.

You can locate one of these laboratories by calling the state Department of Health and supplying the lab with a paint or soil sample. The most important areas to have tested include those the children frequent, such as a playroom, bedroom and areas of the yard in which they play.

Learn more about how to protect your family from lead exposure in the home at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.

Everything you need to know about the down payment

Unless you have a big stash of cash, you’ll need to borrow money to buy a home. Oh, you’ll still need some cash (for the down payment and closing costs), so don’t stop socking it away just yet.

In fact, one of the things that confuses our clients most is the down payment they’ll pay when they get a home loan. So, today we’ll share some of the questions we most frequently field.

Why do I have to make a down payment?

Not all home loans (also known as “mortgages”) require a down payment, but most do. There are several reasons for the requirement. Primary among them is that the money helps protect the lender in case you default on the loan.

Secondary to that is the fact that lenders understand that borrowers with “skin in the game” are more apt to do whatever it takes to hang on to the home and not allow the loan to go into foreclosure.

Is the down payment the same as the earnest money I give the seller?

No. The earnest money’s purpose is to show the seller that you are earnest about buying the home. The amount varies and it is typically held in a broker’s trust account or in escrow until either the purchase is finalized or you or the seller back out of the transaction.

When the purchase is finalized, the earnest money deposit is credited toward your down payment or, in some instances, closing costs.

The purchase contract contains what are known as “contingencies.” For instance, your purchase may be contingent upon you obtaining final loan approval. Should this not come to pass, you can walk away from the purchase with a full refund of your earnest money deposit.

If, on the other hand, you get cold feet and walk away from the deal, the seller may have the right to keep the deposit.

I’ve heard that some sellers help pay the down payment. Is that true?

No, it is not true. Sellers cannot help the buyer with the down payment. On the other hand, they are allowed to contribute toward the buyer’s closing costs.

You can, however, use gifted funds, as long as the money doesn’t come from someone directly involved in the transaction. The person who gifts you the funds must be able to document where the money came from.

If the gift funds are undocumented, you’ll need to have them in your bank account for at least 60 days before the lender will consider them “seasoned.” In fact, even your own down payment funds must either be sourced or seasoned, so if you need to move money around, do it as soon as possible.

Can I use money from my retirement account to pay the down payment?

Yes, you can, but we urge you to speak with your financial advisor or accountant before doing so. There may be penalties or tax ramifications that you should consider.

You’ll find information on borrowing money from your 401k at smartasset.com and moneycrashers.com. You’ll also find an article about why it isn’t a good idea to withdraw retirement funds for a down payment at kiplinger.com.

Again, we urge you to speak with a financial advisor before making the decision.

How much will I need to pay for a down payment?

How much you’ll be required to pay for a down payment depends on the loan product you’re using. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programs require no down payment but each has specific eligibility requirements.

Other loan programs, such as those offered through FHA and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac offer low down payments and the range is generally tied to credit scores. With a conventional loan, you’ll typically be expected to pay 20 percent of the loan amount for the down payment.

But, consider voluntarily paying a larger down payment, if it’s within your budget. The more you pay, the smaller the loan amount will be and, thus, the smaller your monthly loan payment will be.

Make a down payment that nets you 20 percent equity in the home and you won’t be required to purchase private mortgage insurance, which adds a hefty premium fee to your monthly house payment.

When is the down payment due?

While you will need to show the lender proof of your funds for the down payment, the actual monies aren’t due until closing.

The lender will send you a form, called the “Loan Estimate.” While it breaks down all of the costs associated with the loan, pay special attention to the “Costs at Closing” section, specifically the second line under that heading, “Estimated Cash to Close.”

You’ll find a sample Loan Estimate online at consumerfinance.gov.

This amount reflects how much you’ll need to provide to your lender before the transaction is closed. It includes the down payment and closing costs and the lender typically requires the funds be in the form of a cashier’s check or wire transfer.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have additional down payment questions or to clear up any confusion on other real estate-related topics. We’re happy to help.

How to prepare your pet for a natural disaster

It’s hurricane season and even the most prepared among us may have let something fall through the cracks. Typically, it’s the pet’s needs during a natural disaster that are left unconsidered. We’ve seen the videos of dogs left chained in a yard, the flood waters quickly surrounding it.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is urging pet owners to include their pets in the natural disaster preparations and we’re sharing some of their tips with you today.

Come up with a plan

If your pet isn’t microchipped, this should be your first step. In lieu of a chip, ensure that your dog has identification tags securely attached to its collar. If your dog is chipped, it’s still a good idea to collar it (with an i.d. tag attached). Taking a found pet to a veterinarian to be scanned for a chip is impossible in many disaster situations.

If your dog is chipped, is your contact information up-to-date?

Then, make a plan for where you will stay if you have to evacuate. Not all emergency shelters allow pets so call your city leaders to find out if the one in your area is pet-friendly. Or, download the FEMA app, which provides a list of open shelters in your area.

If not, consider other places you might go during an evacuation. Some hotels allow pets, so call the ones in towns where you may end up to find out.

HSUS offers the following list of online sites that can help you locate pet-friendly hotels:

For help identifying pet-friendly lodgings, check out these websites:

If all else fails, start contacting boarding facilities and veterinarians to find one that will take your pet in during an emergency.

Create a pet disaster kit

An emergency medical kit for your dog or cat is essential. You can purchase pre-packed kits or make your own. Use the list provided here.

Then, set aside the following supplies in an area that provides you easy access during an emergency:

  • A 7-day supply of food and water for each pet.
  • Food and water bowls
  • Can opener
  • Cat accessories (litter box and litter, scoop, etc.)
  • Leash or harness
  • Pet carrier
  • Photos of each of your pets
  • Medications your pet needs

Prepare the entire family for a possible evacuation, including your pets, by following the advice from the pros at Ready.gov.

Home inspections aren’t just for older homes

A few years ago, RealtorMag put out a list of the “Top 10 Most Common Home Inspection Problems.” They range from faulty wiring to roof problems to foundation flaws.

Whether caused by deferred maintenance or just the aging of the home, the older a home is, the more likely it is to have issues.

Most buyers of newly-built homes breathe a sigh of relief over their assumption that they’ll be escaping having to fork over large chunks of money for someone else’s problems. And, they typically decide to forego a home inspection.

Yes, new homes don’t have deferred maintenance. Yes, all the components in these homes are new. That doesn’t mean, however, that the home is without an entirely different set of problems.

And that Certificate of Occupancy issued by the local municipality only guarantees that the home is livable, not that everything is in working order.

New doesn’t equal perfect

Not everyone who works on new homes during the construction phase is a master craftsperson. Laborers and contractors have varying sets of skills and experience. While most are conscientious, others cut corners.

Additionally, most of the construction tasks, such as framing, plumbing, foundation and electrical, are subcontracted out – usually to the lowest bidder. Speed, not quality of work, is the most important consideration for the builder.

Errors and omissions in construction, while not overly common, do occur. Bruce E. Holmes, an engineer based in Florida, tells Bankrate.com that he looks for fit and finish problems, such as crooked walls, connections that aren’t tightened and reversed hot and cold water lines.

Municipal inspectors aren’t enough

Don’t assume that county inspectors will find all problems that may exist. Bankrate relates the story of a private inspector that went through a custom-built home during construction, but after the county inspector performed his inspection.

He found cracked floor joists, missing fireblocks and what he describes as “tons of stuff” wrong with the construction.

Reuben Salzman, with Structure Tech in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area of Minnesota, wrote a five-part series, with photos, of problems he has found in newly constructed homes. It’s well worth a visit to his blog, if only to view the eye-opening photos.

Too late?

Because some problems require seasonally-unique conditions to become apparent, most builders offer their buyers a warranty. For example, water intrusion into a basement won’t be apparent until the first big rain.

Warranty terms vary, but most offer terms for different types of work. For instance, you may receive a one-year warranty for faulty labor and materials, two years for mechanical defects and ten for structural problems, according to Ilona Bray, legal editor for Nolo.com.

“The result is that the best parts of the warranty expire quickly — your carpeting, tiles, paint, and roofing, for example, may not be covered after the first year,” she said. Bray also suggests that you obtain an independent, professional home inspection before each warranty expiration date.

Since homeowner insurance typically doesn’t cover construction defects, get to know the warranty. Consult with your attorney, if you must, but ensure that you understand all aspects of it.

Whether you have a home inspection during construction (do so before the drywall goes up) or upon completion, the peace of mind it offers is worth the price.

The landlord’s guide to 3 maintenance emergencies

It’s 2 a.m. and the phone is ringing.  You know before picking it up that within ten minutes you’ll be fully dressed and in your car, on the way to take care of an emergency repair at your property. It’s the nature of the beast, right?

No matter how well you maintain your rental property, water heaters leak, air conditioning units fail and pipes burst. But, what constitutes a true emergency may be a matter of differing opinion – yours and your tenant’s.

If it affects the habitability of the property, or if it’s a health or safety issue, rest assured that it’s an emergency.

1. Roof emergencies

If you get a call from a tenant that the roof is leaking, it’s an emergency. The experts at HomeAdvisor.com suggest that most roof leaks stem from some common problems such as missing shingles and faulty step or pipe flashing.

Take the steps to prevent small roof problems from mushrooming into disastrous failures.

Professional roofers offer these maintenance tips:

  • Inspect your rental property’s roof twice a year, in fall and spring. Immediately replace shingles that are buckled, cracked, curled or missing.
  • Then, inspect the area around the chimney, pipes and anywhere else that is attached to and extends from the roof. Look for looseness or wear.
  • When you clean the gutters, look for large amounts of shingle granules that have been blown off or worn away from the shingles. Large amounts in the gutters is a sign that some of the shingles may need to be replaced.
  • Inspect the ceiling in the attic, looking for signs of moisture intrusion.
  • Cut back tree branches that extend to within 6 feet of the roof.

Roof repairs can cost between $150 and $4,000 but the average cost to a homeowner, nationwide is $784. If you, as the landlord, don’t make the repairs, and allow the problems to continue, you can look forward to paying between $2,000 and $12,255 (or an average of $6,637) to replace the roof when it’s no longer functional.

2. Plumbing emergencies

A leaking toilet can waste up to 90,000 gallons of water in just one month and can add $500 to a single water bill. Still think a minor toilet leak isn’t an emergency?

Ok, so maybe it isn’t the drag-you-out-of-bed-at-a-ridiculous-hour type of emergency, but since even minor leaks affect your bottom line, they require prompt attention.

What does constitute a plumbing emergency?

  • Broken pipe
  • Flooded room
  • Overflowing toilet
  • Sewage leak

In fact, anything that causes immediate water damage should be considered an emergency. After all, the average insurance claim for the water damage caused by a burst pipe, for instance, is about $5,000, according to House Logic.

How to prevent plumbing emergencies

Again, routine inspection and maintenance goes a long way in the prevention of plumbing emergencies. Here are a few ways to prevent some of the more common ones:

  • Insulate outside taps and pipes (drain pipes too) and pipes in unheated areas of the property (lofts, garages, basements) to prevent burst pipes.
  • Remind tenants to allow at least one faucet to drip during periods of extreme freeze and to never pour grease or coffee grinds down the drain.
  • Inspect the toilets at least once a year for worn toilet flappers, wax rings and bolts.
  • Check for signs of wear in the screens over tub and shower drains.
  • Install a pressure reducer if the water pressure on the property is above 85 psi. High water pressure puts stress on pipes and valves.
  • Install a water softener in regions with hard water. Mineral deposit buildup is corrosive and can shorten the life of the plumbing system.

3. Electrical emergencies

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that in 2011, 47,700 home fires were caused by electrical failure or malfunction. Not only did these fires result in 418 deaths, but 1,570 injuries and property damage in excess of $1 billion, or about $13,000 per incident.

So, what constitutes an electrical emergency? Sparking outlets or an outlet that is hot to the touch, and flickering lights may sound minor but they are also symptoms of a larger, more dangerous problem.

Prevent electrical emergencies

  • Hire a certified electrician to check the circuits and wiring on the property. The cost of an inspection will vary, depending on region, but as long as the electrician’s bill isn’t as high as replacing the home after a fire, it’s money well spent, don’t you think?
  • Inspect the electrical system on your property at least once a year. Buy an outlet tester (as little as $4.99 online) and use it to determine if the electrical outlets in the home are wired properly and grounded.
  • As you walk through the property, inspect the light switches and electrical outlets for charring or discoloration. While the problem may be minor, have an electrician check for faulty wiring in the circuit.

When an emergency does occur, it pays to have established relationships with reliable vendors. Cultivate these relationships so that common maintenance emergencies are handled smoothly, safely and professionally.