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How to Protect Your Home - A Maintenance Checklist

September 16, 2013 2:36 am

Moisture intrusion is a leading cause of home maintenance issues and repairs. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) encourages homeowners to identify potential maintenance issues now before they become major repairs.

“When it comes to water intrusion, it’s not often a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the moisture will take its toll," says Dan Schuerman, owner of Schuerman Inspections, LLC. "A maintenance inspection is the best way to safeguard your greatest investment from potentially costly repairs.”

Home Maintenance Checklist

A typical home inspection should include an evaluation of the roof to identify curling, shrinking, broken or missing shingles that may lead to costly leaks; an assessment of the perimeter of the home to look for signs of settling and for voids that will allow rain to enter through the home’s foundation; as well as a thorough inspection of the air conditioning system.

“While we don’t recommend that homeowners conduct inspections themselves due to safety precautions, there are several areas of the home that homeowners should pay close attention to,” adds Schuerman.

Schuerman encourages homeowners to visually inspect hose bibs (the threaded end of the outside water tap or faucet where a hose can be attached) for signs of frost damage; pipes for separated joints or splits; window and door screens for tears and holes; gutters for broken or loose pieces; and surfaces for cracking or peeling paint and caulking.

Before hiring an inspector, Schuerman advises homeowners to interview inspectors to understand what the inspection will cover and to verify the inspector’s experience. Below is a list of questions homeowners should ask their prospective inspector.

What does the inspection cover? Make sure the inspection and the inspection report meet the customer’s needs and complies with the ASHI Standards of Practice (available online at

How long have you been a home inspector and how many inspections have you completed? ASHI Certified Inspectors are required to have completed at least 250 paid professional home inspections and pass two written exams that test the inspector’s knowledge of competency. ASHI Members have passed the same exams and have performed a minimum of 50 fee-paid inspections verified by ASHI to be in substantial compliance with the Standards of Practice.

Are you specifically experienced in residential inspection? Related experience is helpful, but is no substitute for training and expertise in the unique discipline of home inspection.

Do you encourage your clients to attend inspections? This is a valuable educational opportunity. Purchasing a home is probably the most expensive purchase people will make. Taking the time to attend is well worth the time and effort.

How long will the inspection take? The average for a single inspector is two to three hours for a typical single family house; anything less may not be enough time to do a thorough inspection. Some inspection firms send a team of inspectors and the time frame may be shorter.

Will you prepare a written report? Asking to see sample report forms ensures the customer will be comfortable with the style of an actual finished report.

For more information, visit

Published with permission from RISMedia.


House On the Market? Avoid Over-the-Top Halloween Decor This October

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

With Halloween right around the corner, the last thing you want is to scare away potential buyers with a spooky decorating theme. However, just because you’re in the process of getting your home ready for sale doesn’t mean you need to give up on the decorating altogether. In fact, thinking outside the box and taking advantage of a few unique decorating ideas will provide a festive feel, rather than one that keeps prospective buyers at bay.

As a seller, if you’re planning on decorating your home for Halloween, one of the best ideas is to hang orange and green exterior lights. Not only will this provide a festive feel, it’ll help your home stand out at night. Additionally, exterior lights go a long way toward creating an inviting atmosphere.

Curb appeal is still very important, so don’t overdo it when it comes to the outside of your home. A bale of hay on the porch accented with a few pumpkins can make a festive display. Or, create a little pumpkin patch in the corner of your yard with a cut-out of Snoopy and Linus. This creative touch will bring a smile to any prospective buyers who come to tour the property.

Lining your driveway or walkway with interesting carved-out pumpkins can also go a long way toward making your home memorable. Try to stay away from ghoulish images and focus more on interesting characters and shapes (like a local sports team logo), or pumpkins carved to look like famous individuals.

It’s also essential to keep in mind one of the most important rules associated with selling a home: de-cluttering as much as possible. With this in mind, you’ll want to stay away from placing Halloween-themed items all around the home. Instead, use your decorations to play up specific aspects of your home. For instance, a monster prop or hanging ghost on a window or door may bring more attention to new windows or an ornate door that the potential buyer may have missed.

In the end, it’s best to avoid really scary, gruesome decorations, especially those that are designed to give an unsuspecting person (or prospective homebuyer) a shock. That means no bloody zombies, no realistic haunted house special effects and no scary animatronics.

To learn more about attracting prospective buyers through the use of holiday decorations, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Preparing for a Home Purchase Begins with Understanding Your True Financial Commitment

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Buying a home is an expensive proposition, therefore, it’s crucial that you prepare yourself ahead of time for the amount of money that’s required as you make your way through the process.

Making a list of what your monthly expenses will be is a good first step toward fully understanding your true financial commitment before signing the dotted line.

Here are some of the expenses you can expect.

1. Property Taxes.
Taxes can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly mortgage payment and can increase depending on school and town budgets. Remember that a home is normally taxed on its assessed value, an amount equal to a fraction of its appraised value.

2. Homeowner’s Insurance.
A necessity with any home purchase, you’ll want to insure the value of your new home against fire, theft and perhaps even flood damage. While flood insurance must be purchased separately, it’s important to shop around for the best price, no matter what type of insurance you’re seeking. Keep in mind that the cost of insurance can go up each year.

3. Private Mortgage Insurance.
If you put less than 20 percent down for your mortgage, you’ll have to pay PMI, which protects the lender against your defaulting on the loan. Again, you could be looking at hundreds of dollars each month.

4. Exterior maintenance.
You may love a property because of its large yard and beautiful landscaping, but unless you have a green thumb—and the time to commit to keeping the yard in top shape—you’re going to need someone to come in and mow, weed and take care of those flowers and shrubs. The last thing you want is for that picturesque outside to begin looking like a jungle.

5. Utilities. For those used to living in an apartment—or even at home with mom and dad—things like water, gas, electricity and oil may not have been a concern. But when you move into a new house, you need to pay for all of these things, plus cable, phone and Internet service. It’s always a good idea to ask the seller for their average monthly cost over the last year so you know how much you should be putting aside for utilities.

Also, don’t forget that you’re most likely going to want to make some changes or upgrades within the home, so make a list of all the projects you’re considering—such as adding new carpeting, drapes or appliances—and leave room in your budget for some of these costs each month.

For more information about the costs associated with purchasing a home, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Money Matters: Simple Tips to Save for a Down Payment

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Recent studies have shown that the No. 1 reason keeping people from moving forward with a home purchase is the fact that they don’t have enough money saved up for a down payment. Even though there are lenders who require less for a down payment—although at a higher mortgage rate—many people still have a hard time coming up with the necessary funds.

You can’t count on a lower down payment, either. Lenders remain risk averse and prefer to loan money to borrowers who share as much of the risk as possible. A recent Federal Reserve Senior Loan Officer Survey found that only 8 percent of banks loosened mortgage credit conditions in the first half of 2013, and the larger down payment option remains the industry-underwriting staple.

For those dreaming of buying that perfect home, coming up with a down payment is inevitable. While saving a large chunk of money may seem next to impossible, a few key tips will have you on your way toward owning that dream home.

The first thing you should do is write up a budget so that you can see where your money goes each month. Knowing exactly what you’re spending—and where—makes it easier to cut costs.

By seeing where your hard earned dollars are going each month, you may be more inclined to put your daily coffee money or gym membership dues into a savings account. Another simple way to save money is by making a conscious decision to bring your lunch to work on a daily basis, in addition to trading restaurant meals for home-cooked food.

Another simple way to earn a little extra money that can ultimately be used toward a down payment is to clean up all the “treasure” you’ve been holding onto and host a garage sale. Now’s the time to get rid of that lamp you haven’t used in years or even that collection of comics you’ve been hanging onto since you were a kid. Not only will you be able to bring in some extra cash, you’ll also get a jump start on de-cluttering your place.

Additional ways to save money include spending nights in instead of going off to the movie theater, a concert or an expensive dinner. Cancel your newspaper and magazine subscriptions and read everything online. Stop buying music and books for your tablet and visit the library instead.

You may even want to think about getting a second job, especially as the holidays roll around and you can take advantage of extra hours. This doesn’t have to be a permanent thing, but sacrificing a little free time for a year or so will be worth it when you can start relaxing in your own home.

For more money saving strategies, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Questions You Can't Afford to Ignore When Choosing a Real Estate Agent

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Choosing a real estate agent to represent you through the home-selling process is just as important as staging the space to attract prospective buyers and listing it for the right price so that it sells in a timely manner. While you may have heard nothing but good things about an agent from your friend down the street, it’s still a good idea to put in some time interviewing agents so that you end up choosing one who’ll have your best interests at heart throughout the process.

Before agreeing to hire an agent, here are five questions you should ask.

1. Do you work alone or with a team? Nowadays, many agents work as part of a team, therefore, you’ll want to know going into the process if the person you hire will be the one doing the work or if the support team will be showing the house and handling the marketing of your home. You may like a particular agent because they have a trustworthy quality that you think will help when it comes to getting your home sold, but if they farm the work off on people you haven’t met—who may not have as much of an interest in your particular transaction—it might put a damper on the process. On the other hand, having more people working for you is never a bad thing, as long as everyone is sticking to your agreed upon game plan.

2. What is your marketing plan for selling my home? This one question will provide an in-depth look at what your agent plans to do in order to get your home sold. In today’s competitive market, just holding an open house and placing the home in the MLS isn’t enough. You’ll also want to ask about their online presence and whether or not they’ll be incorporating videos into their marketing strategy. In addition, find out if there’s anything unique they’ll be doing to get the word out about your house. Try to find someone with a diversified approach who does what it takes to get the home sold while maintaining a clear vision for getting what you want out of the relationship.

3. How does your compensation work? Before hiring an agent, you should understand the percentage they’ll get when they sell your home. This percentage will vary depending on location and market trends, and sometimes you can even negotiate a smaller number. In a hot market, commissions might dip lower because homes are easier to sell. Conversely, in a weak market, an agent might be less likely to budge on their fee. Along with commission, it’s also important to discuss an agent’s cancellation policy.

4. How often will you communicate with me? Some sellers like hearing from their agent all the time via phone calls, while others would prefer just a quick text to update them on the progress. Let your agent know what you want and see how well they communicate back. They should have the tools to communicate on your terms, whether that be every day or not quite as often. Just make sure you express your wants and needs.

5. How many listings do you currently have? You may find an agent who has everything you’re looking for, however, be sure to take into account that they may have a dozen other properties in your neighborhood that they’re representing. If this is the case, how certain are you that they will be putting your home above the others? It’s not to say that a good agent can’t handle multiple listings, but you should decide if this is something that’s important to you. In the end, you’ll want to work with the agent who will put your home at the top of their list.

For more information about choosing a real estate agent, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


A Strategic Approach to Real Estate Contracts and Deadlines

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, adding deadlines to the real estate contract process is a tricky subject. After all, if someone makes an offer on your house, you may think they’ll go to any lengths to buy it. On the other hand, a buyer may think that just because they’re putting a bid on a house that’s been sitting on the market, their bid will be accepted regardless of what it is.

That’s why many real estate agents discourage their clients from putting a deadline within the contract because when they aren’t met, it becomes a frustrating endeavor.

And what happens if you place a deadline on your offer and the seller doesn’t meet it? Are you automatically going to withdraw your bid? Probably not. Bluffs don’t play very well in the real estate game, so if you set a deadline and then no consequences come from not meeting it, you may find the rest of the negotiations going the other person’s way.

Additionally, when you place an offer that must be decided on by 9:00 p.m., this will be seen by the other party (buyer or seller) as a hard-sell. While it might seem like a good negotiating strategy on your end, it might be the exact opposite from the perspective of the other party. If you want to include deadlines like this in your offer, you must be willing to walk away if they aren’t met.

That doesn’t mean the deal can’t be worked out down the line, but if you’re not going to stand by your deadline, it’s probably better to leave them out of the equation altogether. Speediness is the essential strategy here on both sides of the transaction.

When in the midst of a seller’s market, it may make sense for a seller to set a deadline for reviewing all offers, as this will alert all interested buyers that they need to have their best offer in to compete with any other offers. This type of deadline is actually helpful because buyers can view other homes and put together a bid before the deadline, understanding that the seller isn’t going to make a decision prior to it being submitted.

For buyers, negotiation techniques typically recommend that you add a drop-dead date so that the seller can’t shop your offer or drag things out forever. This will protect you from losing out on other homes that might interest you.

If you’re making an offer in the evening, be sure to make the expiration early the next afternoon so no competing offers are likely to roll in. Have your agent express that there are other homes on your list that you’re just as happy with, that you’re ready to make an offer on. In this case, a deadline can be used to your advantage.

Contact our office today to learn more about the pros and cons associated with incorporating deadlines into real estate transactions.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: Down Payments

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters, brought to you through our company's membership in RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN), examines the do’s and don’ts of incorporating deadlines into real estate contracts. Other topics covered this month include five questions you must ask before hiring an agent and the importance of understanding the true financial commitment associated with purchasing a home. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Clean Your House Naturally and Avoid Toxic Cleansers

September 13, 2013 2:33 am

It's time to tackle the annual home cleaning. But just because you're thoroughly washing, scrubbing and disinfecting your home, it doesn't mean you need to turn to cleansers with harsh ingredients and chemicals. In fact, you can easily clean using inexpensive products already in your kitchen, such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. Use these tips to clean your home naturally.

Start seeing clearly
: Are your windows coated with a layer of grime? A solution of two teaspoons of white vinegar and one liter of warm water can be used to gently remove dust or dirt from all glass surfaces including windows and mirrors.

Freshen up the fridge: In addition to food spills, your refrigerator takes on odors from all the different foods stored throughout the year. Discard old items and be sure you are regularly cleaning out the fridge. Help reduce odors year-round by keeping a box of baking soda in the fridge at all times, replacing it every 30 days for best results.

Reawaken your wardrobe: Start the season feeling good in clothes that smell fresh. Even when carefully stored, clothing can still be exposed to dust, and may require a good washing before wearing. Add a cup of baking soda to your next wash to naturally boost the power of your detergent. The combination will help balance PH levels to leave clothing cleaner and fresher. You can also freshen non-washable items like gym shoes, bags and sports equipment by sprinkling baking soda inside.

Renew the everyday rooms: Avoid the fumes of harsh kitchen and bathroom cleaners by naturally cleaning surfaces with baking soda. A sprinkle of baking soda on a damp sponge will clean counters, stainless steel sinks, microwaves, ovens and much more without scratching. For tough grease, mix vinegar and lemon juice to leave your surfaces like new.

Bet on a BBQ: After the inside of your home is looking spic-and-span, get your grill ready to prevent bad tasting hot dogs and hamburgers from ruining your next BBQ. Sprinkle baking soda on a damp brush, then scrub away any residue and rinse clean. For really difficult stains, make a paste with three parts baking soda to one part warm water and use a wire-bristled brush to work away at grime and grease stains.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Shopping on a Dime? How to Maximize Savings at Discount Stores

September 13, 2013 2:33 am

Bargain hunting for some new fall favorites? Follow the below tips, provided by, to get the most out of your bargain shopping.

Write a list and avoid "browsing": Be aware of marketing tactics - A crucial way to not overspend is to learn how to spot a store's marketing gimmicks. Items are placed in certain locations deliberately and there is a proven science to shopping. Learn the layout of your store and stick to a pre-written shopping list.

Never shop tired or hungry: Shopping on an empty stomach or when tired is the number one way for consumers to buy more than they need. The discipline required to successfully bargain hunt requires a clear head.

Make sure that you definitely want to shop there before paying for membership: Check it out a few times before you sign on the dotted line. Visit the store to see if it is suitable.

Share a membership with a friend or family member: Cut costs even more by having a communal membership, thereby splitting the membership fee.

Use a smaller cart: If you choose a bigger cart, you will fill it up and buy more. A smaller cart means that you are limited to buying less, therefore, saving more. This is a psychological trick that can save precious dollars and avoid over-shopping.

Pay in cash: Estimate the cost of what items need to be bought and bring the exact amount in cash.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


New Opportunities Open Up for First-Time Homebuyers

September 13, 2013 2:33 am

In the coming year, more than 1.5 million consumers will purchase their first home. How do they do it -- and how can you be one of them?

"First-timers now represent nearly 30 percent of all existing home purchasers," said Ray Brousseau, executive vice president of a nationwide lender. "That's a big percentage, but it could be a lot higher because there are many ways first-time purchasers can finance with little down and little hassle."

Many of these buyers are able to afford a new home because they know that the mortgage marketplace has two separate ways to help them: First, there are traditional loan options. Second, there are more than 1,500 mortgage assistance plans for buyers purchasing a first home.

No Need For 20 Percent Down

The big barrier for many first-time buyers is cash. It takes cash for a down payment, and it takes cash to close. Lenders are generally looking for buyers with 20 percent down, but given that the typical home sells for more than $200,000, there are a lot of first-time homebuyers who have not accumulated the $40,000 or more that lenders prefer.

The good news: There are many ways around the 20 percent requirement with traditional loan options.

"It doesn't take a lot of up-front cash to buy a home today," said Brousseau. "FHA and conventional financing are all available with little down, while VA borrowers can qualify for mortgages that require no down payment."

The way such programs work is that they substitute insurance for the 20 percent down that lenders would otherwise want:

• Conventional loans are available with as little as 3 percent down plus what is called "private mortgage insurance" or PMI.

• FHA mortgages require an up-front mortgage insurance premium (MIP), plus an annual MIP based on the outstanding loan balance. Mortgages backed by the FHA are available nationwide and typically require just 3.5 percent down.

• VA financing is available for those with qualifying service, such as military personnel, as well as officers in the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). VA loans are available with nothing down. There is an up-front "guarantee" fee, but no annual insurance cost.

"Instead of $40,000 for a down payment, many borrowers can get a $200,000 loan with $6,000 or $7,000 down, or even nothing down if VA-qualified," Brousseau said. "That means qualified first-time homebuyers can buy a house today instead of waiting years to save 20 percent down."

Mortgage Assistance Plans

According to, there are more than 1,500 assistance plans administered by more than 1,000 agencies nationwide for would-be buyers, many aimed specifically at first-time purchasers.

In looking at these programs it's important to understand what the term "first-time buyer" means. It typically does not mean someone who has never owned a home; instead the usual definition for program qualification purposes is someone who has not had title to a home during the past three years.

This definition is important because it provides a way for people to re-enter the housing marketplace. For instance, suppose the Smiths owned a home and sold it to move to a job in a new community. Three years later they are "first-time" purchasers under the guidelines used by most assistance plans.

"Another important point about mortgage assistance programs is that many are specifically designed to encourage local home purchases by public-sector employees such as teachers, police, firefighters, nurses, and corrections workers," said Brousseau. "There are millions of people who qualify for such assistance."

The benefits available through mortgage assistance plans vary. For instance, borrowers may be able to get financing at below-market interest rates. Down payment grants may be available, essentially meaning that little or nothing down will be required. Another approach includes programs that offer tax credits.

Mortgage interest is generally deductible, but a "tax credit" is arguably more valuable. With what are called "mortgage credit certificates" or MCCs, borrowers can deduct directly from their actual tax bill. For instance, if you have $8,000 in mortgage interest you might be able to directly reduce your taxes by $1,600 while the remaining $6,400 can be treated as an itemized deduction.

"Given low interest rates and a firming housing sector, this is a terrific time to consider entering the real estate market," said Brousseau. "With today's financing choices, many buyers can own their own home a lot quicker than they might have thought."

Published with permission from RISMedia.