Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New Home Defects Often Missed

Dear Barry,
Is it necessary to get my own home inspection on a newly constructed home, or should the inspection by the city inspector be accepted as adequate?

Some readers may wonder why this subject, in varying forms, is recurrent in this column. It is because questions about inspecting new homes are asked so frequently and because the answer is vital to anyone who plans to buy a new home.

Experienced home inspectors have learned that all new homes have defects of one kind or another, regardless of the quality of construction or the integrity of the builder. This is because human imperfection prevents anything as large and as complex as a home from being constructed flawlessly.

A commonly held fallacy is that all construction defects will be discovered by municipal building inspectors. This view is highly mistaken, but not because of professional shortcomings on the part of those inspectors. The purpose, scope, time allotment and procedures for municipal inspections are not the same as for home inspections.

Municipal inspectors inspect primarily for code compliance, not for quality of workmanship. They can cite a builder for improper structural framing or for noncomplying drain connections, but a poorly fitted door, an uneven tile countertop and slipshod finish work are not included in the list of concerns.

Municipal inspectors rarely inspect an attic or a subarea crawl space. They come to the job site with a clipboard and a codebook, not with a ladder and overalls. Construction defects in such areas can escape discovery.

Municipal inspectors typically inspect a roof from the ground or possibly from the builder's ladder. From these perspectives, roof defects are not always apparent. And final inspections are performed before the utilities are turned on, so municipal inspectors cannot determine if or how well the appliances and fixtures truly work. They don't test outlets for ground and polarity because this can be done only after the power supply is turned on. Nor, without power, can they test the performance of GFCI or AFCI safety breakers.

The lack of utilities also prevents the testing of plumbing fixtures such as sinks, showers, tubs and dishwashers, and of gas fixtures such as furnaces, fireplaces and water heaters.

As repeatedly expressed in this column, those who buy new homes should not forego the benefits of a thorough home inspection. Just be sure to find an inspector with years of experience and a reputation for thoroughness.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Install crown molding like a pro

Q: I am remodeling my living room and would like to install a wide cove molding at the ceiling, but I need help in mitering the corners. Do I cut them at a 45-degree angle? Do I cope them? Any information would be greatly appreciated. --

A: Crown molding is one of the most attractive and interesting molding features you can add to a room. It is also, however, one of the more difficult finish carpentry tasks to undertake.

Crown molding sits at an angle to the wall, as opposed to a base molding that sits flat against it. Therefore, you have to deal with a compound miter -- one that angles in two directions at once -- as opposed to the standard miter used on a baseboard. You have several options open to you for how to do this, and I would recommend that you purchase some inexpensive, paint-grade crown molding to practice with until you get the hang of the techniques. Some of these techniques are also very difficult to explain in words, so your best bet is to purchase a book on finish carpentry (or get one from the library) that has illustrations of the various step-by-step procedures that follow:

Compound miter saw: If you have access to one, the easiest way to cut crown molding is with a compound miter saw. These saws have the ability to be set at an angle relative to the back fence as well as having the head of the saw set at an angle, allowing you to cut both angles at the same time. Full instructions for the proper angle settings are included with the saw (they differ with the type of crown molding being installed). If you have a lot of molding work to do you may want to invest in one, or they can also be rented.

Table or radial arm saw: You can also make compound miter cuts on a table saw by tilting the blade and then holding your molding against a miter gauge that's set at an angle. Table saws, however, tend to be awkward for handling long pieces of molding. You can also use a radial arm saw by angling both the arm and the blade, but I've found the cuts on these to be somewhat rough.

Standard miter saw and miter boxes: You can use a standard miter box or miter saw to cut crown molding. The trick is to cut the molding upside-down, and with both of the rear faces in perfect contact with the fence. In other words, the molding is upside-down and facing you, with the ceiling edge down and against the bottom of the miter box and the wall edge up and against the back of the box. You can then make the cut with the blade set at 45 degrees.

Coping: This is done by first square cutting the end of one piece of molding and running it all the way into the corner, then cutting the end of the intersecting one in a pattern that matches the face of the first piece. This is not as difficult as it may seem, but it does require some patience and the use of a relatively inexpensive hand tool called a coping saw.

Corner blocks: If you don't want to mess with angles at all, you can instal
l decorative corner blocks at each inside and outside corner, then simply square-cut the molding and butt it against the flat sides of the blocks. Corner blocks are not a stock item at most stores, so ask to see a molding catalog to find out what's available.

By the way, with whatever technique you decide on, crown molding is considerably easier, safer and more accurate to install if you have the help of a second person.

Published by Paul Bianchen - Inman News

Friday, November 30, 2007

Choosing new doors for your home.

Friday, November 30, 2007By Paul BianchinaInman News

If you wander down the aisles of any home center or door shop, you'll probably be surprised at how many different doors are available. Add to that the thousands of possible door styles, sizes and jamb combinations you find in the catalogs, and you quickly discover that there is an overwhelming number of choices.

If you're in the market for new or replacement doors for your home, here's a brief overview of some of the basics to help with your shopping.

1. Hollow Core: A hollow-core door has two flat or formed panels on the outside faces, which are attached to a wooden frame around the door's perimeter. Inside the door, between the perimeter frame pieces, are pieces of wood, cardboard or other material placed on edge to help stiffen the panels. Hollow-core doors are used for interiors only, and are less expensive than solid-core doors.

2. Solid Core: A solid-core door does not have any hollow voids inside it, and may be either flush or panel as described below. Solid-core doors are appropriate for both interior and exterior use, and help provide both security and sound-deadening qualities.

3. Flush Door: A flush door is one with flat sheets of various materials on the two outside faces, secured to an inner frame of wood or other material. Flush doors may be either hollow-core or solid-core, and the sheets may be paint-grade hardboard, veneer or steel, stain-grade hardwood or softwood, or fiberglass.

4. Panel Door: A true panel door is comprised of a framework of individual interlocking strips of wood, with solid wood panels inset into the framework. Because all the panels are solid with no voids, panel doors are considered solid-core doors. Panel doors are designated by how many panels they have, such as 4-panel, 6-panel, etc.

5. Simulated Panel Door: This is a door with two face panels of hardboard, fiberglass, steel or other material that have been formed under high pressure to create the appearance of a true panel door. Simulated panel doors may be hollow-core or solid-core, and are also designated by the number of panels they contain.

6. Louvered and Half-Louvered Door: A louvered door has a series of angled wooden slats set into a framework, and is commonly used inside where both ventilation and privacy are desired, as in a closet. In temperate climates, they are sometimes used as exterior doors as well. A half-louver door has a flush or inset panel on the lower half and louvers on the upper half, and may be hollow- or solid-core.

7. Swing: Doors with hinges are specified by which way they swing. The easiest way to remember this is to look at the door as it opens away from you. If the hinges are on the left, it's a left-hand door. If the hinges are on the right, it's a right-hand door.

8. Bi-Fold Doors: Bi-fold doors are made up of two or more narrower door units that are hinged to one another. The units closest to the jambs are attached to upper and lower pivots, and the units closest to the center of the doorway have a single upper roller that fits into an overhead track. The door units can be set up to open completely to one side of the opening, or to both sides for larger openings. When completely opened, bi-fold doors provide access to three-fourths or more of the entire door opening, which makes them a popular use for interior closets and storage areas. Virtually any type of door in any material, solid-core or hollow-core, can be used for bi-fold doors, and some types also have mirrored faces.

9. Bypass Doors: Bypass doors have rollers on the top, and are suspended from an overhead track that is attached to the upper door jamb. Bypass doors slide horizontally, with one passing to the inside or the outside of the other. Bypass doors are common for interior closets, and are available in different configurations and materials, included mirrored. Depending on the size of the opening, bypass doors may be made up of two, three or even four panels, and when open will provide access to one-half, two-thirds or three-fourths of the door opening, respectively.

10. Jambs: The three pieces of wood or other material that make up the finished framework of a door opening. The two long, vertical pieces are called jamb legs, and the shorter horizontal piece is the head jamb. In a doorway with a swinging door, the door is hinged to one jamb leg. With bi-fold and bypass doors, the track is mounted to the underside of the head jamb.

11. Casing: The trim that surrounds the doorway, and covers the gap between the back of the door jambs and the rough framing.

12. Prehung Door: A complete door and jamb unit, with the door already hinged to the jamb and ready for installation.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tips on choosing a listing Agent in today's market.

Friends, associates can provide a wealth of referrals

Monday, November 26, 2007By Dian HymerInman News

It wasn't too long ago when it didn't matter as much which real estate agent you chose to sell your house if it was located in one of the many hot seller markets. Listings sold without much assistance; many soon after the for-sale sign went up. Today, choosing the right agent for the job can make the difference between a sale and no sale.

There are many factors to consider in selecting an agent today. One is that many of the agents working now entered the business recently. They've never seen a softer home-sale market before. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't use an agent who doesn't have decades of experience. But, it means you need to find an agent with a definite set of skills.

Most sellers in this market want and need an agent that will provide an aggressive and broad-based marketing plan. However, some sellers may not be aware of how important it is to hire an agent who is an adept communicator. Today's successful agents don't stop selling when they find a buyer for your home. They manage the transaction carefully and skillfully until the sale closes.
It's not enough for an agent to promise to hold your home open every weekend until it sells. In fact, this might do more harm than good. In a slow market, a listing can be overexposed to the market and become shopworn.

The stress level of selling can be intense, particularly if property values are declining. Buyers can be demanding. You need to have confidence that your agent is representing your best interests and negotiating on your behalf in a professional manner.

Negotiating a purchase contract in this market can be an arduous endeavor. It may take multiple counteroffers back and forth to hammer out a deal. And, the fall-out rate is higher today than it was a few years ago.

Selecting an agent who is a good negotiator, who is patient and who will explore all options before letting a deal fall apart gives you a leg up. It helps if your agent has a good working relationship with other agents in the area. One of these agents is likely to represent the buyer for your home.

HOME SELLER TIP: Many agents, and real estate brokerage companies, will leave the business when they discover that they can't make enough money in the current market. Real estate agent ranks swelled immensely in recent years. For example, in California there are now 50 percent more real estate agents in the business than there were five years ago. Make sure that you work with an agent and a brokerage firm that is in the business for the long term.

Ask any agent you consider to provide you with a detailed marketing plan to let you know how he or she will accomplish the sale of your home. Don't even consider listing with an agent that doesn't market extensively on the Internet. Studies show that Internet buyers discount listings online that don't have photos. They assume that something must be wrong with the property. Check a sample of an agent's Internet marketing before signing up.

You may find that agents want longer than 90-day listing periods if sales are very slow in your area. This is understandable; agents typically pay for the marketing, and it's generally taking a lot longer for most homes to sell. Keep this in mind when you select your agent. You could be working with this person for some time.

THE CLOSING: A reliable source of agent recommendations is friends and associates who sold recently in your area, and would hire their agent again.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Don't let suprise defects deter buyers, waste marketing time

Negotiating a purchase agreement is just one step among many in the home-sale process. Before the transaction closes, buyers usually have the property inspected to check for defects. If inspection issues crop up, the contract can be subject to renegotiation, which can derail the transaction altogether.

Real estate law and practice vary from one area to the next. Sometimes the buyers complete their inspections before they enter into contract to buy a home. But regardless of how homes are sold in your area, it's generally thought to be a good idea for sellers to conduct presale inspections before they put their home on the market.

Some sellers do pre-inspections to make sure that they completely disclose defects that may affect the value of the property. Others inspect so defects that might detract a buyer can be repaired before the property goes on the market.

Even if repairs aren't made before marketing, presale inspection reports can help you by making any bad news about the property known to a prospective buyer before he makes an offer. You can lose precious marketing time if you take your home off the market for a buyer who then backs out after he sees a home inspection report.

HOME SELLER TIP: In addition to obtaining presale inspections, consider contacting reputable contractors to provide repair estimates for significant defects that are noted in your inspection. Inexperienced home buyers often have no idea how much it will cost to replace a roof or remove asbestos from the heating system. Fear of the unknown is intimidating. A reasonable repair estimate may assuage the buyer's concern.

Also consider that a buyer whose experience with home maintenance is limited is more likely to estimate on the high side to be safe. Often actual repair costs are less than a buyer might imagine. Asbestos abatement is a good example.

Finding a contractor who will give you a realistic opinion of the condition of your property can be an issue. Many contractors would rather replace than repair. You want contractors who will do the job correctly for a reasonable price. Ask your real estate agent and acquaintances who recently had a good experience with a contractor for recommendations.

Unless you have the expertise to know if an estimate is reasonable, you should plan on getting more than one estimate. Estimates vary widely depending on variables like the contractor's workload. Recently, a homeowner who was preparing his home for sale was told that his tile roof needed replacing. The first bid he received was for more than $75,000. The second estimate was for $20,500. Both estimates were from reputable, licensed roofers.

If the estimates you receive vary significantly, as in the example above, think about having the work done before you put your home on the market by the contractor who issued the more reasonable bid. This way you are in charge of how much you spend on the repair. Just make sure that the contractor will warrant his work for the buyers.

In a hot seller's market, sellers can often sell "as is" regarding property defects. In a buyer's market, like we are currently experiencing in most parts of country today, you could find it difficult to sell your home if there is a lot of deferred maintenance.

It is a good idea to have as much repair work as possible done before you market your home. This will put you in a much better negotiating position. Your home will also appeal to more buyers, which should result in a timelier sale for a higher price.

THE CLOSING: Sellers who are unwilling or unable to complete repair work before they sell should be prepared to discount their list price accordingly.

Publised by Dian Hymer - Inman News

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Snow Satety Tips to Survive the Winter Weather

The cold winter weather shouldn't limit time enjoyed working on the home outdoors. Before venturing outside, ensure proper safety precautions are taken to avoid an accident or injury. Consider the following snow safety tips from The Home Depot Canada to help keep warm and safe all season long.

- Dress for outdoor success. Whether at work or play, bundle up in layered clothing to allow for better evaporation of perspiration. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Wear boots or overshoes with non-skid soles to avoid slips and falls.

- Master the right shoveling technique. Before shoveling the walkway or driveway, ensure you are physically able. Arm yourself with a quality shovel that will last the entire winter. Lift with your leg muscles, not your back and remember, pace yourself and take frequent breaks.

- Blow it away. If shoveling is not your fancy, consider using a snow blower to push the white stuff away. Maintaining the blower will enhance performance and increase longevity. Check areas such as the engine oil levels, blower system chute positioning and tire pressure on a regular basis.

- Light the way. Since visibility is reduced in snowy weather and the winter brings darkness earlier, make sure you have well-lit walkways around the outside of the home.

- Roof clearing. If you need to clear the roof, try using long-handled snow rakes or poles. Should you require a ladder, make certain that the base is securely anchored. Ask a friend, family member or neighbour to hold the ladder while you climb.

- Winter warm-up. After spending time outdoors, snuggle up with a loved one and drink warm beverages like hot chocolate, coffee, tea or soup.

For more snow safety tips, visit The Home Depot store in your community.
~ News Canada

Friday, November 2, 2007

Choosing a quality kitchen range hood.

Besides removing odors, best units get rid of moisture -- quietly

Friday, November 02, 2007By Paul BianchinaInman News

In most kitchens, there is a simple appliance situated above your range or cooktop that often seems to be mistaken for nothing more than a big light fixture -- and in fact, the "builder's grade" range hood in many new homes really is little more than that. But your range hood serves a couple of very important purposes in the kitchen, and selecting the right one is something that warrants some comparison shopping.

Range hoods come in several sizes, finishes and designs, and that's where most people start when they're shopping for a new one. First of all, it needs to be the correct size to match the width of the opening in the cabinets above the range, and to match the width of the range or cooktop itself. Hoods come in a couple of standard sizes, including 30, 36 and 42 inches in width, with the depth being designed to fit with standard 12-inch-deep upper cabinets. There are some variations available in many of the higher-end models, so knowing the size you're looking for is the first step.

Typically, the next consideration is one of aesthetics. There are several finishes available, the most common being white, almond, black, stainless steel or some combinations of those colors. Then there's the design of the hood housing, which can range from the traditional rectangular box with the sloping front that is commonly see in kitchens of all types, to some very sleek, slender models that almost disappear into the cabinets.


Size and aesthetics aside, it's time to take a look at what really makes the range hood function in the capacity that it's designed for -- exhausting air. Range hoods utilize a fan to draw air up and into them, through a filter, then through a duct to -- hopefully -- the outside. That air movement serves to remove cooking odors from the kitchen, and that's when most people will turn it on.

But the range hood has an even more important and often overlooked role as well, which is to remove moisture right at the source where it's being generated. Like a bathroom fan, the range hood lives to draw warm, moisture-laden air out of the home's interior and exhaust it to the outdoors before it can do any harm. For that reason, there are three additional things to pay very close attention to when buying and installing a range hood.

First of all, since the hood needs to remove moisture from the room, you want to avoid the temptation of purchasing a recirculating hood. Recirculating hoods do not require an exhaust duct, so they are considerably cheaper and easier to install. But since all they do is recirculate air through a filter to remove some of the grease and odor, they fail completely in their primary task of removing moisture.

Second, the hood has to be vented all the way to the outside. This is now a building code requirement in today's homes, but in years past range-hood ducts were often run into the attic and no further. As many homeowners have found to their shock and dismay, pumping all that warm, wet air up into the attic can cause a whole host of problems, including dryrot, mold, degraded insulation, and even severe structural damage.

Finally, the range hood needs to have adequate power to effectively remove the air. As with all types of ventilation fans, range hoods are rated in cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air movement. The higher the CFM rating, the more effective the fan is at drawing in room air and pushing through the duct. Larger rooms and larger ranges need more CFM to more an adequate amount of air for ventilation, but even small rooms need a greater amount of CFM if the exhaust air needs to be pushed though a long run of duct, or one with a large number of elbows and other fittings.

At their least expensive, hoods utilize a tiny plastic rotary fan on a vertical shaft, sort of like the propeller on an old beanie cap. Even though a massive 42-inch hood looks powerful enough to handle any ventilation chore, if it's equipped with an anemic motor and fan blade, the resulting air movement will be inadequate.

Better range hoods utilize a multifinned horizontal fan called a centrifugal fan, commonly known as a squirrel cage fan for its resemblance to a common animal exercise wheel. Centrifugal fans are much more efficient at moving air, and offer a higher CFM then a rotary fan with the same size motor.

The final consideration with your new range hood is its noise level, because even the best of hoods won't get used if it sounds like a Boeing 747 is headed for a landing on your kitchen counter. Range hoods are typically rated in sones, and the lower the sone rating the quieter the fan. As a means of comparison, one sone is about the noise that your refrigerator makes, and normal conversational levels are about four sones.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Restore brick fireplace the safe, easy way

Homeowner seeks to rid structure of ugly latex paint

Wednesday, October 31, 2007By Bill & Kevin BurnettInman News

Q: We are remodeling a 35-year-old home that has a nice brick fireplace. The previous owner used it to burn paper and other low-temperature items that produced a lot of smoke, resulting in a very heavy and unattractive buildup of carbon and soot. Worse, the owner used off-white, wall-color-matching, latex paint on the outside part (yes, right on the bricks) of the fireplace.

What must I do to restore some of the natural color and texture of the original brickwork? Sandblasting? Chemicals? Small bombs? And, what type of professional service should I engage to tackle this work, if you feel that "sweat equity" will not suffice?

A: Chemical stripping won't work very well, and we suspect that you had your tongue planted firmly in cheek when you mentioned a small bomb. The alternative we'd suggest is sandblasting.
We wouldn't take on a sandblasting job, especially an inside one. The preparation is intense and the cleanup of sand and leavings will be significant. Also, a deft touch with the wand is necessary to avoid gouging out too much mortar while trying to get rid of the paint. It's a job better left to the pros.

To find someone to tackle the job, we suggest you check the Yellow Pages. Call several blasters to see if they can do the job and get references. That's the route we'd go.
But you might want to consider another alternative to sandblasting -- refacing.

Our brother Bryan has a fireplace project going at his home in Eagle, Idaho. He just ordered a wood-burning, energy-efficient fireplace to replace an antiquated, poorly designed woodstove. Every time he tried to start a fire in the stove, he got smoked out.

When the workers removed the old stove, the flue opening was plugged with what Bryan said looked like a couple of deflated footballs, made of creosote. Needless to say, this is a serious fire hazard. If you haven't already done so, we recommend you employ a good chimney sweep to get your chimney in "fire shape."

Bryan's fireplace is faced with used brick. He doesn't like the look. Uncle George suggested -- you guessed it -- white paint. That isn't flying with Bryan. So Kevin suggested he consider refacing the brick with stone, tile or marble. In your case, consider following Kevin's recommendation and refacing with brick. It would be a lot less messy than sandblasting; you could choose the look you want; and it's definitely a do-it-yourself project.

If you decide to go this route, choose a veneer brick. It's thinner -- 3/8 to 3/4 inches thick -- and much lighter and easier to work with. It has all of the warmth of brick without the heft. For examples and more information, go to www.artobrick.com.

Q: I would like to reuse the ceramic floor tiles from my kitchen remodel (putting old tiles at the kickboard onto new cabinets). How do I get the mastic off the tiles? I've tried soaking, but that hasn't worked. Should I try muriatic acid?

A: We bet you've soaked them in water. That won't soften and remove the mastic, as you've discovered. Muriatic acid will work only on cement-based mortar. Instead, we suggest soaking the tiles in lacquer thinner followed by a good scraping with a wide putty knife and a scrub with a wire brush. Do the job outside, and wear gloves, eye protection and a respirator because the fumes from the solvent are strong and can burn skin and mucous membranes.

Copyright 2007 Bill and Kevin Burnett

Monday, October 29, 2007

Real Estate market. If you have any comments please post them. Dora Baycroft.

Inexpensive Home Heating Tips
Hot, Not Bothered:
Inexpensive Home Heating TipsThe dramatically rising cost of home heating is a bothersome concern for most Canadians. Heating your home efficiently this winter will be the key to keeping your energy costs under control. Here are some quick, easy and, most importantly, inexpensive ways to maximize warmth and minimize impact to your pocketbook:

- Adjust Your Personal Thermostat: Wear a sweater and dress warmly around the house. When you're stationary, watching television or reading, you're most susceptible to a chill, so toss a throw around you. Since hot air rises, resist the icy influence of cooler floors with thick socks or slippers.-

Adjust Your Home Thermostat: It goes without saying that the less energy you use, the lower your heating bills will be. Set your thermostat at 21°C when you're home awake, 18°C when you're sleeping and 15°C when you're out of the house. Purchase a programmable thermostat to reduce you heating bill by as much as 20 per cent.-

Let the Sun Shine In: While up to 25 per cent of your home's heat is lost through its windows, they are also a source of solar warmth. During daylight hours, keep your drapes open and let the sun help heat your home. Insulate your windows with plastic film to reduce heat loss by 50 per cent. Insulating curtains are expensive, but pay for themselves within 7 years.-

Seal the Leaks:
Caulk, seal and weather strip around windows and doorframes, baseboards, ducting and electrical outlets to save up to 20 per cent on your heating bill. Remember to close your fireplace flue when you're not enjoying a fire. Install a door sweep to resist against under-the-door drafts. Turn off the heat supply and close the door to unused rooms, such as a guest bedroom. Close interior doors leading to hallways or stairways to keep the heat where it's needed most.
Pbulished by Royal LePage

Friday, October 12, 2007

Strem of low offers confuses home seller

Q: I tried to sell a house for the appraised price and was unable to sell at that price. I understand that property will not sell when it is priced too high but the offers I received were $5,000 to $8,000 less than the appraisal.

I was under the impression that if I advertised the property for the appraised price, it would move quickly. I told one real estate agent when she made me an offer from a client that I was going to have the house appraised again and that I would provide the appraised price to the potential buyer so he could adjust his bid.

The agent didn't go for that at all. Can you give me some suggestions as to what I did wrong? When I couldn't sell the house, I finally rented it.

A: I think you made a few basic mistakes. First, the appraised value is not necessarily the same thing as the market value.

The appraised value of the home is what an appraiser thinks the home is worth based on the sales of other similar homes in the area. The market value is what someone will actually pay for the house.

In your case, either because of the condition or location of the home, the market is telling you that your home isn't worth what the appraiser thinks it should be worth--it's worth $5,000 to $8,000 less.

Getting a new appraisal doesn't change what someone will pay for the home. You'd be better off buying some cans of white paint and repainting the interior of the property. Then, you might get more money for it.

Renting the house is fine. Eventually, prices will rise in your neighborhood and you'll get your price, but not today. And only you can decide if waiting for prices to rise in order to get the extra $5,000 to $8,000 is worthwhile.

Q: My father died late last year and left a piece of property to my two sisters and me. Ownership is to be divided equally. The property is a house on Lake Michigan on the eastern shore, about due east of Chicago.

Local real estate agents have told us the property is worth $1.2 to $1.5 million. We all live too far away to use or manage the property and have decided to sell. However, one sister insists on doing nothing this year and waiting until next spring to sell. She says she heard one should wait at least a year to sell inherited property and that it "feels right" to wait.

Can you give me some reasons why we should either wait or sell immediately? My own feeling is that the taxes for this property are going to be very high once my father's "grandfathered" tax rate lapses.

A: First, I'd like to offer my condolences on the loss of your father.

Although I'm sure you and your sisters are missing your dad, I can't think of any reason why you wouldn't want to put your dad's house on the market now--when vacation homes are selling like hotcakes. The carrying costs (taxes and maintenance) on a house that expensive could be costly, especially if none of you are near enough to use it regularly and make sure that small problems don't turn into big issues.

I think the advice your sister is remembering refers to individuals who have experienced a huge trauma, like the death of a spouse or partner. In those cases, if the individual can afford to wait, it is a good idea to let a year go by while he or she adapts to the new circumstances of a new life.
In your case, you won't gain anything by waiting a year to sell this property. You have inherited the property at the current market value (which may even be able to be adjusted to whatever price you sell it for this spring). That means you would pay no capital gains tax on your inheritance when you sell.

And after the expense of selling it (broker's commission, transfer taxes, etc.), you would each pocket a significant amount of cash.

I think that you should sell now, especially since interest rates might rise significantly in the next year, which could dampen interest in an expensive vacation property. But it doesn't really matter what I think.

You and your siblings need to talk this out so everyone is comfortable with the plan. If you're having trouble agreeing, ask an estate attorney to mediate.

Contact Ilyce through her Web site, www.thinkglink.com.Copyright 2006 Ilyce R. Glink

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Don't make this mistake with homeowners insurance

Why updating policy after paying off mortgage is so crucial

Thursday, September 27, 2007By Ilyce R. GlinkInman News

I received these comments after answering a question in a recent column about any changes that should be made on a homeowners insurance policy:

Comment: I read your recent column in the Hartford Courant. One reader asked if any changes were needed on the home's insurance policy once the mortgage was paid off.

Your answer was "no." You stated that no changes needed to be made on the insurance policy. I disagree. If a mortgage company or bank is listed as a mortgagor or loss payee on the insurance policy, then that entity should be removed from the policy once the loan is paid off.

Ilyce: If a fire or other loss results in a claim, the insurance company will issue the loss payment or settlement check for that claim payable to both the insured (the homeowner) and the mortgagor if the name has not been removed. The proper paperwork needs to be submitted to the insurance company to have the mortgage company or bank deleted from the policy. It would not have any financial interest in the home once the mortgage is paid off.

Comment: I believe your comment that nothing needs to be done is in error. The reader should have his homeowners insurance policy modified to remove the lending institution as an additional insured. Otherwise the reader would have to locate and request the lender sign off on any claim settlement checks should the property be damaged at some future date.

The reader should also request that tax and insurance bills be sent to him for payment rather than to the lending institutions' escrow accounts.

Ilyce: Loretta Worters, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, agrees it is a good idea to notify your insurance company that your mortgage has been paid off.

"When you have paid off your mortgage, the title is returned to the borrower," who is also the homeowner, she explained. The homeowner "would need to notify the insurance company that the title is now in his name, but the bank may automatically do it."

According to Worters, this is an important thing to do to smooth the claims-paying path in case you have a loss.

"If you have a loss, the check would be made out to you and to the bank because theoretically the bank owns your home," she explained. If you remove the lender's name from the policy once your mortgage is paid off, only your name would be printed on the check, which helps cut down on the paperwork.

If you don't remove the bank's name, it slows down the process of getting you a check because there would be additional paperwork to complete.

"It's more of an inconvenience. The check would have to be reissued. The insurance company would probably look for proof that the loan has been paid off -- such as the title from the bank. It's not awful but it would take time. If you're looking to get a claim paid to rebuild a home after a catastrophe, you want to get it paid as quickly as possible," she said.

When you refinance your mortgage, you'll need to notify your insurance company as well, says Worters, so that new lender is named on the homeowners insurance policy. Typically, the lender takes this step for you.

Worters said there are typically two areas where problems creep up when it comes to homeowners insurance and mortgages.

Ninety-eight percent of homeowners have homeowners insurance because the lender requires it. But once a home loan has been paid off, some homeowners decide they no longer want to pay for homeowners insurance.

"It's extremely dangerous, because if they experience a loss after the policy lapses, they are on their own and they may not be aware of it. Banks automatically include homeowners insurance as part of the package on many mortgages. So you may not even be aware of your premium or your coverage," Worters explained. "But once your home is paid in full, you will no longer get notices about homeowners insurance and it could slip through the cracks."

The best way to contact your insurance company is to call first, and then follow up in writing. Be sure to keep a copy of the letter, which you should send via registered mail, return receipt requested.

Friday, September 21, 2007

How to protect home from winter's fury

By Paul BianchinaInman News

With fall's transition between the seasons comes a transition for your home as well. That roof and those four sturdy walls need to protect you from winter's fury, and there are several things you can do to help get ready.

1. Seal masonry surfaces: Apply a sealer to concrete driveways and walkways, brick patios and other exterior masonry. The sealer, available from paint stores and masonry supply retailers, prevents water from penetrating into cracks and crevices where it can freeze and cause serious damage.

2. Prepare your fireplace: Now is the time to get wood-burning appliances such as fireplaces and woodstoves ready for the season. Remove ash buildup; check screens and glass doors for damage; replace door gaskets as needed; and check doors, door latches, screen brackets, and other metal parts to be sure they are secure and operating properly. Check the condition of the exterior of the chimney or flue pipe, including the cap, and then clean the chimney to remove last season's accumulation of soot and creosote. Consider having a professional chimney sweep service clean and check everything at least every other year.

3. Prepare humidifiers: Winter is a dry time inside your home, and many people choose to use a portable or central humidifier to put much-needed moisture back into the air. Now is the time to check your humidifier to make sure it's operating properly, that all necessary plates and filters are in place, and that the system is clean and the water supply is correct. Check your operating and maintenance instructions for more information.

4. Check the gutters: Check and clean gutters to remove leaf and pine needle debris, and check that the opening between the gutter and the downspout is unobstructed. Look for loose joints or other structural problems with the system, and repair them as needed using pop rivets. Use a gutter sealant to seal any connections where leaks may be occurring.

5. Change your furnace filters: Replace your old furnace filter with a new one. While you're at it, check the furnace for worn belts, lubrication needs or other servicing that might be required; refer to your owner's manual for specific suggestions, and follow any manufacturer safety instructions for shutting the power and fuel to the furnace before servicing.

6. Install a carbon monoxide detector: As we close up our houses for winter, the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning from malfunctioning gas appliances increases substantially. If you have a fireplace, water heater, or other appliance that is fueled by propane or natural gas, fall is an ideal time to install a carbon monoxide detector -- available from many home centers and retailers of heating system supplies. While you're at it, consider also having a professional heating contractor come out and inspect all of the fittings and components on your gas appliances.

7. Check smoke detectors: Fall is a great time to check the operation of your smoke detectors and to change batteries. You should also consider installing additional smoke detectors outside each bedroom.

8. Close off foundation vents: Depending on the winter climate in your area, you'll want to be thinking about closing off your foundation vents to help prevent pipe freezes. You can leave the foundation open for as many months as the weather remains mild, but close them off when the local forecasts begin calling for freezing temperatures. Once closed, you can leave them that way until it warms up again in the spring.

9. Check weatherstripping: Air leaks around doors and windows can rob your home of expensive heated air and create uncomfortable drafts that keep you feeling chilly. Check the weatherstripping around doors and windows, and replace any that are worn -- retailers who specialize in doors and windows can fix you up with the proper replacement type for your situation. Now is also a good time to close up a few more air leaks by checking the condition of caulking around exterior door and window frames.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Do We Need A Home Inspector?

We're buying a brand-new retirement condo. Should we get our own inspector or just rely on the builder's inspector? Or, do we really even need an inspection? After all, we will have a year to request repairs if anything goes wrong during the warranty period. --Diana

Dear Diana,

There are two reasons why you need a professional inspector of your own. The inspector you hire will be there to discover every visible and accessible defect, regardless of whether that discovery is profitable for the builder. The builder's inspector has other loyalties, related of course to the source of his paycheck. His allegiance is to the builder, not to you.

Reason number two involves the common assumption that the one-year warranty will cover all inherent defects. All the warranty covers are the defects that you discover during that first year.

For example, if an appliance ceases to function, or if a sink drain begins to leak, you will probably notice the problem and call it to the attention of the builder. But what about less obvious defects? Suppose there is a safety violation at the garage firewall, or an improper gas connection at the water heater, or a chimney installed too close to combustible materials in the attic, or some portion of the roof that was not properly flashed, or some ungrounded electrical outlets. It is unlikely that you would become aware of such problems during the first year, and those conditions would remain after the warranty had expired.

No one should ever buy a new home without hiring a professional home inspector because all new homes have construction defects, regardless of the competence or the integrity of the builder.

Published by Barry Stone - Inman News

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Do Open Houses Work?

From InmanWiki -->

What are the odds that you'll find your dream at a Sunday open house? What is the likelihood that your home will sell at an open house? Open houses are an integral part of the home sale business. But, do they work?

There are two types of open houses. One is for real estate agents. The purpose of the broker's open house is to introduce a new listing to local agents. The chance that a home will sell as a result of a broker's open house is relatively high. Serious buyers usually work closely with agents in order to find a home. By exposing a listing to more agents, you increase the number of showings to bone fide buyers.

Sunday open houses are more of a hit-and-miss proposition. When a home is open to the public, it is open to anyone who wants to take a look. Not everyone who walks through will be a legitimate buyer.

Some open house visitors will be neighbors. This is not all bad. Some neighbors have friends or relatives who may want to relocate into the area.

Most people who visit open houses are directed there by the signs. This means they don't have much information about the house when they walk in the front door. So even when open house visitors are legitimate buyers, they may not be well-qualified for the house in question. They may need a larger house or a smaller house, or something more or less expensive.

The biggest beneficiary of a public open house is often the agent holding the house open. Open houses give agents an opportunity to meet prospective home buyers and sellers face-to-face in a relatively non-threatening environment. An open house can be a source of future business leads for the agent.

From a seller's perspective, there are pros and cons to having a home held open to the public. On the positive side, an open house gives buyers' agents the opportunity to send their clients through the property. Buyers who may be reluctant to make an appointment to see a new listing, will often be willing to stop in at a Sunday open house. Sometimes, they are pleasantly surprised by what they see.

Buyers' agents sometimes make the mistake of screening listings too carefully for buyers. When this happens, one of the only ways buyers will be exposed to a rejected listing is if they find it on their own at a Sunday open house.

Open houses can be abused, however. If a listing is open all the time, there's no reason for a buyer to make an appointment to view it privately. The most productive showings occur when buyers visit a listing with their agent, privately--without the distraction of others.

From a buyer's perspective, visiting Sunday open houses can be both informative and misleading. One way to learn market value, and to educate yourself about the inventory, is to look at a lot of houses. Touring Sunday open houses is one way to see a lot of houses in a short period of time.

However, if you limit your home search to only those homes that are held open to the public, you may miss out on good listings. Some sellers don't want their homes held open to the public. The only way to see these listings is by appointment.

Well-priced listings sometimes sell before they are ever held open to the public. Don't wait until the open house to see a hot new listing if your agent tells you that it might sell quickly.

Copyright Dian Hymer
Distributed by Inman News

Friday, August 24, 2007

Stay Safe When Installing Kitchen Range, Oven

Handy@HomeBy Paul BianchinaDistributed by Inman News

Stay safe when installing kitchen range, oven
July 27, 2007

Getting to be time for some new kitchen appliances? One way to save some money along the way is to do the installation yourself, which is not as hard as you might think.
Most appliances come in several standard sizes, so if you can find a replacement that's the same size as the old one, the installation is considerably easier. New appliances that are larger then the old ones will require that you enlarge the cabinet or countertop opening, which can sometimes be a tough chore. New appliances that are smaller will require that you reduce the size of the opening, and that can definitely lead to a number of problems.


1. Always shut the electricity and gas supplies to the appliance before removal and reinstallation. Do not reactivate either one until you are sure all the installation steps have been completed, and all of the tape and other packaging materials have been removed. If you have any questions or concerns about the gas or electrical supply or connections, or any other installation step, always consult a licensed professional before proceeding.
2. Appliances are very heavy and require two people for installation. Do not try to do this all by yourself -- you risk damage to the appliance, the cabinets, the floor, and, most importantly, you!
3. Place a piece of plywood, heavy cardboard, packing blankets or other protective material over your kitchen floor to prevent damage to the flooring during the removal and installation steps.


Ranges are found in three basic configurations. These include freestanding, which sit on the floor and fit between the counter on either side of it; slide-in, which sit on the floor but also overlap the counters for a cleaner, more custom look; and drop-in, which rest on both the counter and the lower part of the cabinet, and do not go all the way to the floor.

Freestanding ranges are very easy to install. Remove the old one by sliding it forward enough to reach and unplug the electrical cord or disconnect the gas line, then remove it completely from the opening. Install a new electrical pigtail (power cord) or gas line on the new range following the manufacturer's instructions, slide the new range into the opening, plug in the cord or connect the gas line, and adjust the leveling feet as needed. Slide-in ranges are installed in the same manner, but the countertop cutout might need to be adjusted slightly prior to installation -- check the manufacturer's template for exact sizes.

A drop-in range is typically hard-wired instead of just plugging in. Slide the range out far enough to access the electrical junction box and then disconnect the wires (or disconnect the gas line), then remove the old range by lifting it out of the opening. Consult the manufacturer's templates and make any adjustments to the cabinet and counter openings that might be required. Carefully lift the new range into position, reconnect the wires or gas line, and then slide the range completely into place. If required, finish the installation by installing any fastening screws provided by the manufacturer.


A cooktop drops into an opening in the countertop, so here again it is best to have a replacement unit that fits directly into the old opening. To remove the old cooktop, disconnect the wires inside the junction box or disconnect the gas line, both of which should be located inside the lower cabinet. Lying on your back reach up inside the cabinet and undo the fasteners that hold the cooktop against the countertop -- usually screws, small bolts or thumbscrews. Lift the old cooktop out of the opening.

Check and adjust the countertop openings as needed, then drop the new unit into the counter. Following the manufacturers instructions, install the fasteners that hold the cooktop to the counter. Finally, reconnect the electrical or gas lines.


First, remove the old oven door. This will give you access to the fasteners, and will also make the oven lighter and easier to remove. Unscrew the attachment screws that hold the oven to the cabinet, then slide the oven partly out of the opening. Rest the oven on a bucket, box or other support, and disconnect the electrical wiring or gas line, then remove the oven completely.
Check the cabinet opening to be sure the new oven will fit properly, and adjust as needed. Remove the oven door, following the manufacturer's instructions, then carefully lift the oven partly into the opening and support it as before. Reconnect the electrical or gas lines, and slide the oven all the way into the cabinet. Check the fit, and then secure the oven in place by installing the new attachment screws. For hardwood cabinets, be sure you predrill the cabinet before attempting to install the screws.

Copyright 2007 Inman News

Friday, August 17, 2007

To File Or Not To File A Homeowner's Insurance Claim?

When it makes financial sense

Friday, August 17, 2007By Paul BianchinaInman News

It's an unfortunate fact of life that bad things can occasionally happen to your home. Water damage from a broken pipe or a fire from an overheated stove can happen at any time, and can easily cause tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in structural damages and contents losses.

That, of course, is why you have homeowner's insurance. But the question that often comes up is "Should I file a claim?" It's not always an easy one to answer, and there are several factors you need to weigh before you make that decision.


The first question that comes up is whether the loss is covered by your homeowner's policy. Generally, the policy will stipulate that the damage to the home needs to be "sudden and accidental." Some examples would be a pipe that freezes and breaks; a washing machine or a toilet that overflows; an electrical circuit that overheats and starts a fire; a wind storm that causes shingles to blow off the roof or a tree limb to come crashing down; or a drunk driver that misses the corner and smashes into the front of your house.

Things that are typically not covered include ongoing maintenance issues, such as a plumbing drip that has gone on for many months or shingles that fail because they are past their useful life. Flooding and earthquake damage are typically not covered unless you have specific coverage on your policy, and many homeowners' policies now either exclude or limit coverage for mold.


Another key question about whether or not to file a claim is the value of the loss. Some people view their homeowner's policy as something to be used for a loss of any size, while others view it in the same vein as a major-medical insurance policy -- it should be used only in the event of something catastrophic.

Every homeowner's policy carries a deductible amount, which is a sum of money that you are required to pay toward the value of the loss. For example, suppose your home is damaged and the contractor will charge $10,000 to repair it. If you have a $1,000 deductible on your policy -- a fairly common amount these days -- the insurance company will settle with you for $9,000, and you will have to make up the other $1,000 of the contractor's bill.

The size of your deductible contributes to your thinking on whether or not you want to file a claim. If you have a loss that is valued at $1,200 and you have a $1,000 deductible, the $200 that the insurance company would contribute toward the repairs would not be worth having a claim on your record. On the other hand, a $1,000 deductible would be a minor contribution to make against a major fire damage claim that resulted in $75,000 worth of damage.

You will need to weigh the value of the loss against your own financial situation and the impact that the claim will have on your record before you make the final decision to file a claim.


Many people hesitate to file a property damage claim due to concerns about their "claim record," which is the history of claims that have been filed against a particular piece of property. In general, insurance companies look at the number of claims filed against a piece of property in the last three to five years, the nature of those claims (fire, water, storm, etc.), and the dollar value of the claims.

Different insurance companies seem to have different criteria for how they view claim history and how they weight the different factors, but all of them do take the property's history into consideration in one way or another when it comes to rates and whether you will be eligible for renewal when a policy expires.

Remember that this is typically the record of claims filed on a particular piece of property, not claims filed by a particular person (although that may be taken into consideration as well). As such, you may be filing your first-ever claim on the house you've owned for the last two years, not realizing that there had been two previous claims filed by the last homeowner. For that reason, when you purchase a previously owned home, it's a good idea to ask for a disclosure of any claims that have been filed against the home.


Filing a claim is not something to do casually, or to do on a loss that is not very much over your deductible. On the other hand, you shouldn't feel like you need to shy away from a claim if you need the insurance company's help in making the necessary repairs -- that is, after all, why you have the policy.

Unfortunately, the typical insurance policy is not written in plain English, so it may be difficult to understand what is and isn't covered. There is also nothing in the policy about how claim history affects you. So, if you have any questions about coverage, deductibles, claim history or anything else pertaining to how well your single biggest asset is protected, don't ever be afraid to ask your agent for clarification.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@ykwc.net.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Attic Ventilation Makes A Healthy Home

Handy@HomeBy Paul BianchinaDistributed by Inman News

June 15, 2007

If you're like most folks, you've probably never given any consideration to how well ventilated your attic is. But proper attic ventilation is very important to your home's good health, both in summer and winter.

In the summer, a good flow of ventilation will remove unwanted heat that is trapped in the attic. That heat can damage the roofing, and it also makes it that much more difficult to keep your home cool. In the winter, removing attic heat allows the underside of your roof to stay closer to the ambient temperature of the outside air, which helps prevent ice damming. And throughout the year, good attic ventilation removes excess moisture before it can accumulate and create the potential for mold growth or damage to wooden structural members.

Properly installed, attic ventilation works on the natural passive movement of air. For the typical attic, this means a combination of low vents along the eaves of the roof, and high vents along roof's ridge. Since the air in the attic is warmer at the ridge than it is at the eaves, lower temperature air is drawn in through the low vents, pushing the higher temperature air out through the high vents. While the movement of air is more dramatic in the summer when attic temperature differentials are higher, this movement actually occurs at all times and in all temperatures.


How much ventilation your attic needs depends on the size of your house and, to some degree, its shape. To determine ventilation requirements, most building codes rely on a simple mathematical formula of 1 square foot of ventilation area for every 300 square feet of attic area. For example, if your home has 1,500 square feet of living space, you would need 5 square feet of vent area to provide an adequate amount of air flow (1,500 square feet divided by 300 = 5).
Since it is the passive movement of the air through the attic that creates the ventilation, the placement of the vents is a very important consideration in how effective they will be. They need to be installed so that roughly half are in high locations along the ridge or in the gable ends, and half are placed low along the eaves.

Attached garages can add to the ventilation load of the home as well. If your home has an attached garage and the attic of the garage is continuous with the attic of the house, then the square footage of the garage needs to be included as well. For example, if your 1,500 square foot home has a 500 square foot attached garage and the attics are continuous with one another, then the required vent area goes from 5 square feet to 6.67 square feet (1,500 square feet + 500 square feet = 2,000, divided by 300 = 6.67).

If the garage is attached to the house but the attics are not continuous, you have a slightly different situation. Because the attic of the garage is still going to get warm (even if the garage does not have a ceiling), that heat is still going to have an impact on both the garage roofing and the heat being transferred to the house, not to mention on the garage itself and all its contents. Therefore, the garage attic needs to be ventilated as well. You can use the same 1:300 formula, but the square-foot requirements and the layout of the vent locations for the garage should be considered independently of the house attic.


If you were to purchase a vent that is 12 inches by 12 inches (one square foot) in overall size, you would not actually be getting one square foot of ventilation area. The framework of the vent and especially the insect screening in it reduces the overall amount of area that the air can actually pass through -- sometimes by as much as half.

For that reason, vents are rated in net-free area (NFA), which is the actual amount of open ventilation area that the vent contains after deducting out all of the space taken up by the frame and the screening. The exact NFA will be printed directly on the vent by the manufacturer, and it's important to utilize this number as opposed to the overall size of the vent in making your calculations for how many vents you will need.

With whatever type of vents you use, remember to keep them free of insulation and other debris that reduce their effectiveness, and to be certain that all bathroom, kitchen and other exhaust fans in the house are vented all the way to the outside, not into the attic.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@hughes.net.

Copyright 2007 Inman News

Friday, August 3, 2007

Save Money On Home Improvement

Where to find best deals on materials

Friday, August 03, 2007By Paul BianchinaInman News

There's no denying it -- remodeling, repairing and decorating your home can be an expensive undertaking. But with a little creativity and some wise shopping decisions, you'd be surprised at how much you can save on your next project!

Lumber: There are a number of different lumber grades available, and the higher grades also carry higher price tags. If you don't need the increased structural capacity or better appearance of the higher grades, save some money by selecting a lower grade that's appropriate for the intended use. Also, many lumber yards have piles of lumber that are culled out because it's warped, split or otherwise unsuitable for sale at full retail. You can often pick this material up at sizable discounts, and it's perfectly good for jobsite uses such as blocking, temporary bracing, etc.

Beams: Another place to save some money is with the purchase of beams. Many structural-engineered lumber beams come in long lengths that are cut on site at the lumber yard, leaving drops that are too short for long spans. You can often pick these up cheap, and they can be used as headers for doors and small windows, or in other framing applications.

Large versus small packaging: Some construction items, such as nails, screws and other hardware, are available in both small and large packaging. Buying in larger packages saves you money on a per-pound basis, so long as you have a need for the items now or in the foreseeable future. If you only intend to use a few of the items, you're better off buying the smaller packages
-- even though you pay a little more per pound, you don't waste money on excess you'll never use.

Bulk buying: Along those same lines is buying in bulk. Items such as sand, topsoil, gravel, bark, and other bulky construction and landscaping materials can be purchased in bags, but you really pay a premium on a per-cubic-yard basis for that convenience. If you have a pickup truck or a small trailer, picking these materials up yourself in bulk will save you quite a bit of money. For even larger quantities, paying a small fee to have them delivered will still result in a sizable per-yard discount over bagged material.

Concrete: For small jobs such as setting a fence post, you can't beat the convenience of bagged concrete mix. But once your project gets up around a quarter of a cubic yard, bagged concrete becomes a whole lot harder on both your wallet and your back. Many towns have small-yardage concrete companies that are much more economical, and you can also have a full-size concrete truck deliver the wet material for a very reasonable "short-load" fee.

Small pieces of plywood: Many home centers and lumber yards have smaller, precut pieces of plywood and other materials, and you can save yourself some money if you only need a small piece for a one-time project. However, these small panels are quite expensive on a per-square-foot basis, so if you have a future need for the plywood and a place to store it, you're definitely money ahead by buying a full sheet and cutting it yourself.

Tools: When a home-improvement project calls for a particular tool that you don't currently have, consider how often you might use that tool in the future. If it's a basic item, such as a circular saw or even a paint brush, that will see a lot of use over the years, then buy the best you can afford. It's safer, easier to use, and its long life will more than pay for itself when compared to cheaper tools that require periodic repair or replacement. A tool you might only use a few times could be a lesser expensive model, so long as it's safe. If the tool will more than likely be a one-time use, consider renting instead of buying.

Sweat equity: Got a little more time than money? If you're having work done on your home, talk with the contractor about what things you can reasonably do -- and the key word is reasonably -- to save some money. Perhaps you can do your own painting, or scrap things out and clean up the site at the end of each day. But whatever your agreement is, get it in writing!

Seconds, roll ends and discontinued items: Many retailers have items such as appliances and plumbing fixtures that they sell at sizable discounts because they are slightly blemished, have minor scratches or are in the store because someone misordered them. Flooring companies often have "roll ends" of carpet and vinyl for sale at a fraction of their original price, and that are perfect for smaller rooms. Many paint stores will have sales on mismatched or mistinted paint, or wallpaper that was misordered. Tile stores often have a sizable inventory of discontinued tiles, stones, grouts and other materials at great prices. If you can be a little flexible and creative in your design thinking and are willing to do a little research, you'll find there are bargains all around you!

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@ykwc.net.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It Pays To Hire Home Inspector Before Selling

Discovering defects now can avoid a host of legal trouble

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 By Barry StoneInman News

Dear Barry,
I'm getting ready to sell my home and would like to hire a home inspector before I put it on the market. It seems that a pre-marketing inspection would give me a better idea of needed improvements before I sell. Is this wise or not? --

Your approach demonstrates a wisdom not commonly realized by sellers. Buyers typically hire the home inspector after the purchase contract has been signed. The inspector provides a list of defects, and then the buyers ask the sellers to make repairs, to reduce the price, or sometimes to cancel the sale. When you provide a home inspection report prior to signing the contract, you avert this process of renegotiation.

Essentially, there are three benefits for sellers who hire a home inspector prior to marketing a property:

1. The inspection report informs you, in advance, of any significant defects that might need attention and that could adversely affect your chances of selling the property. It affords you the opportunity to make repairs prior to sale.

2. The report enables you to provide a more thorough and complete disclosure of the property's condition. This lessens the likelihood of legal problems after the sale, when undisclosed defects might then be discovered.

3. The report provides the best basis for an as-is sale, if that is what you prefer. You can decline to make repairs while fully informing the buyers of the conditions that need repair.

Sellers would do themselves a great service by taking this proactive approach to the disclosure process.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Fence Doesn't Always Show True Lot Line

July 19, 2007

DEAR BOB: I own a commercial property with residential lots in the rear. There is a fence along the rear of my property, about 7 feet within my side of the property line. There is a paved parking lot on my side of my fence. One of the residential houses in back of my lot was recently sold, remodeled and flipped. The flipper landscaped his backyard up to my fence, making it look as though my property is part of his yard. The buyers are using my fence as their backyard boundary. I'm not sure if the buyers of that house understand they don't own the 7-foot strip of my lot on their side of my fence. What should I do? --

: If I understand the situation correctly, the fence is 7 feet on your side of the lot boundary. To protect your interest in that 7-foot strip of your lot -- which the previous adjoining owner landscaped -- you or your attorney should send the new owner a polite letter informing him of the true boundary location, which is 7 feet from the fence.

Purchase Bob Bruss reports online.

With limited exceptions, fences are not automatically lot boundaries (although they often are built on boundary lines).

If the neighbor continues using your 7-foot strip of land without your permission, it may be possible for him to acquire a permanent prescriptive easement to use that land strip forever. One way to prevent this is to grant permissive use.

The reason is acquiring a prescriptive easement requires open, notorious, hostile (without permission) and continuous use for the number of years required by state law.

Another alternative would be for you to erect a new fence along the true boundary, which, if I understand you correctly, would be 7 feet within the neighbor's landscaped area. For full details, please consult a local real estate attorney.

Published by Bob Bruss/Inman News

Friday, July 13, 2007

Trespasser May Be Granted Legal Use Of Your Property

Have you checked your easements lately?

Friday, June 29, 2007By Robert J. BrussInman News

Editor's note: Robert Bruss is temporarily away and will return next week. The following column from Bruss' "Best of" collection first appeared Sunday, June 25, 2006.

Not too long ago, a neighbor asked if I knew where our sewer and storm drains are located. He apparently wants to adjust the drainage on his property to drain into the public storm sewer drain, which I knew adjoins our lots.

After that brief conversation, I checked the legal description for my property. All it says is the city has a public utility easement along the northerly 5 feet of my property. But the easement description doesn't say what underground utilities are there and exactly where they are located.
Purchase Bob Bruss reports online.

Further research in the public records might reveal exactly what underground public utility easements pass through my property and exactly where they are located.

WHAT IS AN EASEMENT? Virtually every property in an urban area is subject to one or more easements. An easement is the legal right of a public or private entity to use part of a real property owner's land.

The property that is burdened by an easement is called a "servient tenement" because the easement serves another parcel. The property that benefits from the easement is called the adjoining dominant tenement."

There is always a servient tenement. However, there is not always an adjoining dominant tenement, such as for a public utility easement.

Private easement examples include a driveway, path or garden area of a neighbor's property. Public easements include utility easements for water, sewer, storm drain, electric lines, phone lines, gas pipes and cable TV lines.

Most easements are obtained with permission of the original property owner, usually at the time a subdivision is developed. The utility easements are often granted free by the developer in return for the city or private utility bringing public services to the property.

But some easements are hostile, without the specific permission of the property owner. To illustrate, suppose I drive over part of your property to reach my garage because that route is shorter and easier than using my steep driveway to reach the public street. Even if you tell me to stop driving over your land, but I continue to do so for the number of years required by state law, eventually I can obtain a permanent prescriptive easement for that purpose.

To be valid, an easement must be recorded against the title of the property that is subject to the easement, such as a shared driveway between two houses.

A very rare easement is an easement by necessity. Most states have laws allowing creation of an easement by necessity to reach a landlocked parcel, which has no driveway or other access to a public road.

The legal theory is all land should have road access, and when the landlocked parcel was created the owner at that time forgot to include access. A quiet title lawsuit is usually required to create an easement by necessity over an adjoining parcel that has public road access and, at some time in the past, had common ownership with the landlocked parcel.

THREE BASIC TYPES OF EASEMENTS. Virtually every real estate parcel is burdened by some type of easement. To be valid, the easement must either be recorded in the public records affecting a specific parcel, or it must be capable of being perfected into a valid easement.


Where there is a dominant tenement that benefits from an easement, such as for a driveway, that is an easement appurtenant. Most easements appurtenant were created when a subdivision was developed, or when two adjoining lots were subdivided.

An easement appurtenant is usually recorded against both parcels, describing the details of that easement. To be valid, an easement appurtenant must be recorded against the servient tenement title. It is usually also recorded against the dominant tenement title.

When a parcel is landlocked without public road access, it is up to the owner of that parcel to prove entitlement to an easement by necessity. If the court approves such an easement, it becomes an easement appurtenant with dominant and servient tenements.


Virtually every property with electricity, phone, TV cable, public water, sewer, and storm drain utility service is subject to one or more easements in gross. Most such easements are recorded in the public records against each property title affected.

An easement in gross has a servient tenement, but no dominant tenement. Sometimes such easements were not properly recorded. If the easement in gross is obvious, such as for overhead power lines, it is hard for the property owner to deny awareness.

But underground easements in gross, such as for water, sewer and gas pipes, might not be obvious. To avoid unexpected surprises, property buyers should insist on receiving an owner's title insurance policy at the time of purchase. If an underground easement in gross is later discovered, but it was not disclosed in the owner's title insurance policy, the title insurer may be liable to the property owner for damages.

For example, suppose you decide to build a swimming pool in your backyard. As the contractor is digging, he discovers a previously undisclosed city sewer through the middle of your backyard. If the city's sewer easement was properly recorded, but the title insurer failed to discover and disclose it, the title insurer is liable to the property owner for either the cost of moving the sewer pipe or the diminished value of the property.

3. PRESCRIPTIVE EASEMENTS REQUIRE HOSTILITY. When someone uses part of your property without your permission, and without a prior recorded easement, he or she might become entitled to permanent use of that easement.

The legal requirements to acquire a prescriptive easement over someone's land requires (a) open, (b) notorious (obvious), (c) hostile (without permission), and (d) continuous use of part of another's property without permission for the number of years required by state law.

Payment of property taxes is not required, as it is to obtain title by adverse possession.
California has the shortest prescriptive easement period, only five years. But Texas requires 30 years to acquire a prescriptive easement. Other states have varying time tests.

Because prescriptive easements can be shared, the hostile use need not be exclusive. Use can be shared with the legal owner and/or other hostile prescriptive easement claimants.After meeting the time and use requirements, a prescriptive easement acquirer can perfect the easement by bringing a quiet title lawsuit against the property's legal owner. An experienced real estate attorney is usually needed to prove the prescriptive easement requirements.

SUMMARY: Virtually every property is burdened by or benefits from an easement. Property owners should understand the legal consequences of those easements and where they are located. Unless properly recorded, an easement might not be valid except when it is obvious by long continuous use, such as overhead power lines. For full easement details, please consult a local real estate attorney.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his Real Estate Center)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Future Homeowners Pay For Poor Paint Job!

How to ensure a long-lasting coat on stucco

Thursday, July 05, 2007By Bill & Kevin BurnettInman News

Q: I own a stucco home that was built in the late 1940s. It was last painted about 10 years ago and is flaking.

When I lift the flakes off with a putty knife, the underside is white and chalky. The more I lift off, the farther it goes. Although some areas appear tight, some show lifting a day later. There are also some hairline cracks.

What is the best way to prep for painting? Should I rent a pressure washer, and if so, will that remove the chalkiness, or will that take wire brushing? Should the hairline cracks be widened and filled, or will the undercoat provide enough filler? Should the cracks be dealt with before washing? How powerful should the pressure washer be?

Also, I was planning to use Zinsser oil base undercoat, followed by Kelly-Moore Acry Velvet exterior paint.

A: A stucco paint job should last more than 10 years, especially if the paint was of reasonably good quality. We're afraid you've fallen victim to poor preparation.

As we always say, an exterior paint job is only as good as the prep -- and this was a crummy job. The fact the paint is peeling off the chalky surface underneath tells us that the previous "painter" -- and we use the term loosely -- just slapped on a coat of paint to make the place look good. The result is that he wasted a fair amount of time and money and didn't get the longevity he could have gotten with a little more time and effort.

Our compliments to you for doing it right this time. All of the questions you pose are good ones. You're definitely on the right track. Follow these steps to get a long-lasting "Cadillac" paint job.

1. Clean the surface. As far as we're concerned, using a pressure washer is the only way to go. A pressure washer rated at about 1,700 psi will do the job, but if you're renting, go for the larger model. You can always dial it down a bit.

Use a wider spray pattern and go at the wall at about a 45-degree angle so you don't blow a hole in the stucco. Use drop cloths at the base of the wall to catch the paint chips you'll invariably dislodge. We suspect the old paint will come off in sheets.

2. After the surface is dry give any cracks a quick swipe with a wire brush to eliminate any leftover debris. Also check for and remove any paint chips that may have escaped the pressure washer.

3. Prime the surface. The Zinsser product you mention should be OK. Doublecheck to make sure it's suitable for stucco and compatible with the Kelly-Moore finish coat you're planning.

Another option is to use a low-viscosity penetrating sealer. These sealers penetrate any chalking paint that might remain after washing and bond it to the surface. Since you're using a Kelly-Moore finish, take a look at their 98 Stucco Seal. A description and specifications can be found on the Web at www.kellymoore.com.

4. Patch the stucco. For patching hairline cracks, we've had good luck with Bondex Ready-Mixed Stucco Patch by Zinsser. This product has the consistency of a heavy paste, dries to a bright white and cleans up with warm water.

Application is with a putty knife, a broad knife or a heavy paintbrush. Work the material into the cracks and allow it to dry. If there are wide cracks several coats may be required. Because of its thickness this material can be "tooled" to match the existing stucco.
For more information check out the product data sheet at www.zinsser.com.

5. Apply the finish. The hard part's done, now it's time to reap the rewards. Paint your house the color of your choice and rest assured you've done everything you can to ensure a long-lasting job. Hopefully you won't tire of the color. But if you do, the next go-round of preparation will be a whole lot easier.
Copyright 2007 Bill and Kevin Burnett

Friday, June 29, 2007

How Reliable Are Square-footage Figures?

Variables that skew public record

Monday, June 25, 2007By Dian HymerInman News

Misrepresenting square footage can get a seller into big trouble. If a buyer relies on a seller's disclosure about the living square feet in his home and the buyer later finds out that the representation was overly ambitious, a lawsuit could ensue.

Sellers have a tendency to round up the number of square feet in their home. The more cautious approach would be to round down. The safest approach would be to make no representation about square feet at all. In an ideal world, this would be the perfect solution. In the real world, however, buyers want to know how many square feet are included.

It's easy to understand why. Most buyers are busy and don't want to waste time looking at homes that won't work for them. Describing a listing by the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, without any reference to square feet, is a safe approach. But, it tells buyers little about the actual size of a listing.

In the diverse housing stock in many older neighborhoods, such as the desirable Rockridge area in Oakland, Calif., three-bedroom homes range in size from about 1,300 square feet to more than 3,000 square feet. To say a house has three bedrooms tells a buyer little about the usable space.

When the number of livable square feet -- square feet excluding such things as decks, terraces, garages, basements and storage rooms -- is not provided in the listing information, buyers often search on their own for this information.

It's not that hard to come up with a figure. Simply go to Zillow.com and type in an address. The square-footage figure that pops up is presumably from the public record. Unfortunately, the "public record" often doesn't reflect reality. It may be accurate for new homes that haven't been modified since the original building permits were approved. The figure is far more subject to error for older homes that have been remodeled over the years.

Remodels are often done without building permits, which wouldn't be reflected in the public record. However, even when add-ons are done with permits, the public record is not always changed to reflect the increase in square feet.


It's a good idea for buyers to visit the local building or planning department to find out what documents are on record regarding a listing they're considering buying. This should be done during the inspection contingency time period. If possible, ask for copies of all the permits that were taken out on the property, starting with the original building permit.

If permits for obvious modifications to the property are missing, this could indicate the seller, or a previous owner, took shortcuts. Or, it could reflect a shortcoming in the planning department records. For example, fires in the City of Oakland Planning Department partially destroyed the permit archives.

Buyers often like to compare listings they're considering based on the price per square foot. This is a far-from-accurate way to figure out if you're paying a fair price for a property, unless you're looking at homes in a new housing development where there is little variability.

Also, if the figures you're using are from the public record, which is often wrong, the reliability is even more in question. The most accurate source of square footage is the information from the local permitting agency. If that information is not available, a licensed appraiser can measure the house to provide square-footage calculations.


Keep in mind that an appraiser might call a room a bedroom -- even though it wasn't permitted as such by the building department -- if the work was done by licensed professionals and complies with building-code requirements.

Dian Hymer is author of "House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide," Chronicle Books.

Friday, June 22, 2007

"Televator" Makes Atic Access A Cinch

Say goodbye to traditional folding stairs

Friday, June 22, 2007 By Paul BianchinaInman News

When you're standing there, surrounded by Christmas ornaments, Halloween decorations and other boxes representing a plethora of seldom-used items, your eyes can't help but wander up toward the ceiling. Hmmm … all that space up there in the attic, just waiting to be filled. But can you use it safely? And how do you get up there, without having to drag out the big ladder every time?

Whether or not an attic can be safely used for storage depends on the framing that supports the ceiling, the size and span of the lumber, the weight of the items being stored, and other variables that are unique to each home. The typical trussed or stick-framed attic is capable of supporting light loads evenly spaced, such as boxes of decorations or clothes. They are typically not suitable for heavy, concentrated loads such as boxes of paper or files.

Also, you should never cut any components in the ceiling or roof framing in order to accommodate storage -- or for any other reason -- unless you fully understand how the framing supports its loads, and how to transfer those loads during and after the reframing process. In short, never attempt to alter framing or use the attic for heavy storage purposes without first consulting with an experienced contractor, architect or structural engineer.


If you've determined that the attic is safe for storage, the next question is how to get up there safely and conveniently. For that one, Werner Ladders has come up with an innovative solution in the form of their "Televator" Telescoping Attic Ladder. The Televator is a fully retractable aluminum ladder that stores up in the attic behind a door, and that telescopes down into the room when needed.

Unlike traditional folding attic access stairs, the Televator requires very little effort to use, and very little room in which to open and set up, making it a great solution for confined areas such as bedroom closets where existing attic access hatches are typically located. An included metal pole is used to open the ceiling door and then telescope the ladder down, and the same pole is used to reverse the process to store the ladder back in the attic. The ladder sections are spring-loaded, and require only minimal strength to pull down or retract. The Televator comes complete in one box, and is easy to install for the average do-it-yourselfer. You will need to supply your own plywood for constructing the door, but all of the necessary door hardware is included with the kit.

The first step in the installation of a Televator is to determine if it will work for your particular attic access situation. The Televator is available in two sizes -- one for ceilings between 7 feet 4 inches and 8 feet 4 inches in height, the other for ceilings up to 10 feet 3 inches. Both require a ceiling opening that is a minimum of 22 inches by 22 inches (it can be larger than that in either or both directions, but not smaller).

When the ladder is closed, it requires 13 horizontal inches from the back of the attic opening to any obstructions, and when it's open it requires 30 vertical inches of clearance from the top of the attic framing. In its fully extended position, the 8-foot ladder requires 35 inches of clear space horizontally from the back of the attic opening to the front of the ladder's feet where they rest on the floor; the 10-foot version requires 41 inches.

Once you have the hole in the ceiling ready, installation is pretty straightforward. The ladder unit is completely assembled, and requires only the installation of a couple of corner support brackets and a header plate. You'll need a drill and a wrench for putting in the lag bolts.
Next, the length of the ladder is adjusted for your specific ceiling height. Here again, the Televator's unique design makes this process a simple matter of removing and then reinstalling a couple of screws in the adjustment brackets -- no cutting is required.

The final installation step of the ladder itself is to lift the unit into the opening and hang it on the support bracket. Two locking plates are then bolted into place and the two support struts are attached, and that's it. Complete installation, not including making the door or doing anything with the ceiling opening, should take less than an hour.

Making and installing the door is a matter of cutting a piece of 1/2-inch plywood to size, then installing the hinges, support brackets, latch and weather stripping. Everything you need (except the plywood) is supplied, and there are complete instructions and templates for every phase of the installation.

The Televator ladder carries a load rating of 250 pounds, and retails for $199 for the 8-foot version. You can visit www.wernerladder.com for more information, including a dealer locator.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@ykwc.net.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Smart Home Buyers Stay For The Long Haul

Part 1 of 2: Making a wise purchase offer

Thursday, June 14, 2007By Ilyce R. GlinkInman News

In this two-part series, Ilyce Glink tackles some questions every home buyer should ask.
These days, life looks pretty good if you're on the buying side of a real estate transaction.

The number of homes for sale is at an all-time high and continuing to rise, according to the National Association of Realtors. The number of vacant homes is also at an all-time high. Developers are so desperate to unload houses that they're cutting prices in addition to offering free extras and upgrades.

But before you whip out a pen and fill in your offer to purchase, there are five questions every home buyer should ask:

1. How long do I plan to stay in this home?

This is the most critical question you can ask when going through the home-buying process because the answer can change what you buy, how much you pay for the property, and how you finance it.

Most home buyers tend to stay in their primary residences for five to 10 years. In the past few years, as the price of real estate was soaring and homeowners sought to capitalize on that, many people began treating their primary residences more like a piece of investment property. They'd buy, renovate (or not), and flip for big profits. Often, they'd plow their profits into a bigger, more expensive property.

With the real estate market slowing in many parts of the country, it makes sense to ask how long you plan to stay because short-term purchases will likely be money-losing propositions. It takes a savvy buyer to find a fixer-upper that can be renovated and flipped for a substantial profit in two to three years.

Once you figure out how long you plan to stay, ask yourself what would happen if you had to turn around and sell the property in a year. If you had to pay a 5 percent commission, plus other costs of sales including moving expenses, and the property didn't appreciate at all, would that change what you'd pay for the property today? Of course. You'd probably make a lower offer.

Be sure to take the length of time you plan to stay into account, but then account for a surprise move when calculating the price you offer the seller.

2. How desperate or anxious is the seller?

Sellers used to go to great lengths to avoid letting buyers know why they're moving. In most cases, people move because they accept a job offer in another location; they don't feel the local schools meet the needs of their children; or they aren't a good fit with the neighborhood.
But sometimes sellers move because of a death in the family, job loss (the property becomes unaffordable) or a divorce.

Finding out exactly why the seller is selling should be a top priority for all buyers and their agents. You also need to find out what kind of timeframe the seller is working under -- in other words, how desperate and anxious they are to sell and move.

The current buyer's market has produced record numbers of desperate and anxious sellers. In some cases, you have sellers who have already purchased and moved into their new homes. For them, every day that their property sits on the market translates simply into less cash back at the closing (assuming there is cash to be had).

You might also find sellers who are barely (or not) keeping up with their mortgages, and who are overextended financially.

If you find a desperate and anxious seller, you'll want to use that knowledge when constructing the offer. Desperate and anxious sellers are much more likely to accept a lower bid than sellers who feel they have all the time in the world to sell.

Next week: Three additional questions you should ask before constructing an offer to purchase