5 Maintenance Tasks to Ignore at Your Peril

Homeownership means regular maintenance and repair chores, but some are more important than others. Here are five that should top your priority list:

1. Make Sure Your Appliances Aren’t Being Recalled

Why it matters: The non-profit “Consumer Reports” magazine wrote an eye-popping piece about how often home appliances catch fire: more than 150,000 residential fires each year from 2006 to 2008, resulting in 3,670 injuries, 150 deaths, and $547 million in property damage. About half the fires appear to have been caused by faulty appliances. Some had been recalled for defects that could cause an appliance fire, but the home owners weren’t aware.

What you need to do: Write down the model and serial number of each appliance, then check at http://www.recalls.gov for recalls and what action to take if something you own is involved. Keep your list so it’s easy to recheck; it sometimes takes years for problems to become evident. Keep tabs at HouseLogic for notices about recalls.

Maintenance cost: Free

Worst case if you put it off: You don’t learn that your dishwasher or clothes dryer has a safety defect, and the machine catches fire and burns your house down.

2. Check for Leaks and Fix Them

Why it matters: Water does more damage to houses than anything else, since persistent leaks lead to mold and mildew, rot, and even termites and carpenter ants (they like chewing soggy wood since it’s soft). Yet if you fix a leak soon after it starts, there may be no long-term damage at all.

What you need to do: Inside, keep your eyes open for dark spots under pipes inside sink cabinets, stains on ceilings, toilets that rock, and of course drips. At least once a year, inspect the roof. If you find leaks, fix them immediately. Otherwise, call in a plumber.

Maintenance cost: Negligible for a simple fix, such as a new washer. A visit from a plumber might set you back $250; a roof repair, a few hundred dollars to $1,000.

Worst case if you put it off: Drips ruin the cabinet under the kitchen sink, and run down into the floor sheathing and joists underneath, so you need a structural repair, plus new cabinets and new kitchen flooring. Or the roof rots, so you need a new roof and repairs to rooms directly beneath.

3. Test Your Sump Pump and Backup Pump (or Install a Backup Pump If You Don’t Have One)

Why it matters: The middle of a storm isn’t the time to discover your basement sump pump is clogged, nor is it the time to begin planning for a backup pump. You need them ready before the water arrives.

What you need to do: Fill the sump pump pit with water and make sure the pump switches on and sends water out the discharge line. If you have a backup pump, repeat the test, but unplug the main pump first. If the backup pump runs on batteries that are more than two years old, replace your sump pump. If you don’t have a backup pump and are on municipal water, get one that runs on water pressure. If you’re on well water, your only option is the battery kind.

Maintenance cost: Testing is free; a water-powered backup sump pump, including installation, costs $150-$350; a new battery for a battery-operated sump starts around $200.

Worst case if you put it off: The pump or pumps don’t work when you need them and your basement floods, ruining everything in it and forcing you to tear out drywall and carpeting.

4. Renew the Finish on Your Hardwood Floors

Why it matters: Every wood floor needs to be refinished periodically, but the trick is to get to the job before the old finish wears through. Then you can apply a fresh coat without having to sand into the wood. Since sanding wears away some of the wood, being able to skip that step can extend the life of your floor by decades.

What you need to do: If your floor is dull but OK otherwise, repair scratches and apply a hardwood floor refinisher ($6-$18 per quart). If the old finish is really scratched up, call in a pro to buff it and apply a fresh finish.

Maintenance cost: If you just need the refresher coat and apply it yourself, you can do 500 sq. ft. for around $25. If you hire a pro, figure on $1 per sq ft.

Worst case if you put it off: The finish wears through. If your floor is thick enough to sand, expect to spend $2.50 per sq. ft. for a new finish. If the floor can’t be sanded, you’ll need a whole new floor — $8-$20 per sq. ft., if you stick with wood.

5. Protect your Foundation

Why it matters: If anything goes wrong with your foundation walls — serious cracks, uneven settling — you could be in for one of the most expensive home repair jobs possible.

What you need to do: Every year, check to make sure the soil around your house slopes away from your foundation walls at least 6 inches over 10 feet (rain gutter downspouts should extend at least 5 feet away from your house).

That slope keeps water from getting down right next to your foundation, where it could cause basement walls to lean, crack the masonry, and cause leaks. (For houses with crawl spaces, keeping water away makes sure excess water doesn’t pool underneath your floor, making for damp conditions that encourage mold, rot, and insects.)

Maintenance cost: Topsoil is $10-$20 per cubic yard, plus delivery. You’ll pay $50-$100 per cubic yard if you buy by the bag.

Worst case if you put it off: Hydrostatic pressure causes your foundation to settle, cracking your basement walls. A full excavation is necessary to stabilize, repair, and seal the foundation walls — a $15,000 to $40,000 job.

By: Jeanne Huber

 

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5 Mistakes That Could Decrease Your Homes Value

Renovating or improving something too much sounds like an oxymoron, however when it comes to attracting a buyer and generating a return on investment, it is possible. The decisions you make may be best for you and your family, but it is crucial to consider the mindset of potential buyers.

Here are five common renovation mistakes that may decrease your home value:

1. Over improvement: Your home should be similar to other homes in the neighborhood. If your home costs much more than other homes in the neighborhood, potential buyers may choose that the updates you made do not outweigh the increased cost.

2. Over personalization: You may love bright paint, built-ins, and elaborate tiles but the potential buyer may see changing it as too much of a hassle. You want buyers to be able to picture themselves living in the home so it is helpful to have a neutral design aesthetic when you show your home.

3. Inconsistency: It is better to spend smaller amounts on many projects than spend a large amount of money on one project while neglecting other parts of the home. Instead of spending upwards of $30,000 installing a pool while keeping old and outdated appliances, it is a wiser decision to update the appliances.

4. Removing a wall: It may seem as though knocking down a wall between two small rooms to make one larger room is a no brainer but having more rooms is almost always better when it comes to increasing the value of your home. Your family may be smaller than the potential buyers and, for them, it may be better to have more rooms regardless of their size. Removing bedrooms can also decrease the value of your home. Turn an extra bedroom into an office or gym while you are living there, but switch it back to a bedroom when you are getting ready to sell.

5. Functional Obsolescence: Make sure that your renovations make sense. For example, potential buyers will probably not want to have the only way to enter one bedroom be to go through another bedroom. Another example would be turning a garage into a guest house. Although having a guest house might be better for your family, many families would prioritize having a garage.

Remember these mistakes when you are choosing renovation projects around your home. What seems like a good idea might not actually lead to a return on investment or, worse, may detract someone from buying your home.

 

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5 Deck Makeover Projects Under $300

Want to upgrade your deck but watching your budget? Here are 5 easy deck makeover ideas, many well under $300.

 1. Add Solar Lighting
If you’d like your wood deck to come alive when the sun goes down, add solar lighting. Solar lights don’t need an on/off switch — they light up when it gets dark, then fade away 4-6 hours later.

You won’t have to plug them in or wire anything, either. Their solar-charged batteries are renewed every day, and the lights are built to withstand all kinds of weather.

Types and cost:

  • Paper lanterns (made from synthetic, weatherproof nylon; $20-$30) are made for hanging and come in all sorts of fun shapes, sizes, and colors.
  • Carriage lights can be fixed on top of a pillar or railing newel post. $45-$150.
  • Solar illuminated replicas of old-fashioned mason jars can be set on any flat surface, about $35.
  • Rope lights have small LED bulbs inside a flexible cord. A 25-foot-long rope with solar charger and stand is $25.

What else: Suspend lanterns from overhead trellises, railings, and nearby trees, where they’ll shed a soft, colorful glow. Wind rope lights around rafters and railings.

2. Install a stone landing at the foot of your deck stairs
3. Put up a privacy screen

4. Paint a faux floor rug on your decking
5. Wash and refinish your wood decking

2. Install a Stone Landing at the Foot of Your Deck Stairs

Dress up the transition from your deck to your yard with a little hardscaping — a stone landing at the bottom of your deck stairs. Stones are a natural compliment to wood decks, and they’ll help prevent mud from forming where there’s heavy foot traffic.

Cost: Flagstone is priced by the pound; you’ll spend $60-$100 for enough stone for a 3-foot-by-4-foot landing.

How-to: Techniques for installing a landing are the same as putting in a patio, although you’ll have to temporarily support your existing stairway while you work around — and under — it.

What else: You should be able to add a landing in less than a day. It’ll get done faster if you hire a pro, but it’ll cost you another $150-$200 in labor.

3. Put Up a Privacy Screen

Whether you’re relaxing alone au naturel or entertaining friends, a little home privacy is always welcome. You can add some vertical supports and fill in a variety of cool screening materials that are as nice for your neighbors to look at as they are for you.

Types and costs:

  • Bamboo fencing comes in a 6-foot-by-16-foot roll for $20-$25.
  • Lattice panels are either wood or plastic, $15-$30 for a 4-foot-by-8-foot panel.
  • Grow climbing plants on a trellis ($20-$100) to create a living privacy screen. Plant climbing vines in tall containers ($40-$120) to raise them above the deck surface and give them a head start filling in your screen.
  • Outdoor fabric resists moisture and fading; $12-$120 per yard. You’ll pay another $20 to have a seamstress cut and hem a 3-foot-by-5-foot panel.

How-to: Your privacy screen should integrate with your deck; make the framework using the same basic materials as your deck railing and structure.

Add some flash by building a frame with 2-by-2- or 2-by-4-inch uprights spaced 1 foot apart, then weaving aluminum flashing between the uprights.

What else: Make sure to position your privacy screen where you’ll get maximum benefit. Sit on your deck and check your lines of sight.

4. Paint a Faux Floor Rug on Your Decking

Punch up a boring old deck with a faux rug. This is a fairly low-cost project with a big wow factor, and one you can share making with your (well-behaved) kids. It works best on a newly cleaned deck (see below).

Cost: Most of your cost will be deck stain or paint in various colors. Because you won’t be using that much stain per color, you can buy quarts. Figure $15-$20 per quart.

How-to: Figure out a size, sketch out the design on your decking, and then all you have to do is paint or stain between the lines. You can use painter’s tape as a guide, but a little leakage is likely on a wood decking surface.

What else: Keep a few basic cleaning supplies on hand for any drips or spills. After the stain is dry, coat the entire deck with a clear deck sealer.

5. Wash and Refinish Your Wood Decking

 

The ultimate deck makeover is none other than a good cleaning. Applying a coat of deck sealant afterwards ensures your wood decking looks great and will last for decades.

Cost: There are many brands of deck cleaning and brightening solutions. Some require the deck to be wet; others need the decking to be dry. Some are harmful to plants and you’ll have to use plastic sheeting to protect your landscaping. Consult the instructions carefully.

You’ll pay $15-$25 per gallon, enough to clean 300 sq. ft. of decking.

How-to: Scrubbing with a good cleaning solution and rinsing with a garden hose is more foolproof than scouring your decking with a power washer that may damage the surface of the wood.


What else: After you deck is cleaned, apply a coat of deck stain or clear finish. The sealer wards off dirt, wear, and UV rays, and helps prevent deck splinters. A gallon covers 250-350 sq. ft., $20-$35/gallon.

 

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How to Pick Paint Colors

Paint has remodeling power when you use it to emphasize a room’s best features or play down the flaws.

 Every home suffers a few negatives, but not every solution requires pricey structural changes. Paint is an often-overlooked, low-cost remodeler’s remedy for common complaints with interiors, offering the chameleon-like ability to lighten, warm, enlarge, erase, or attract attention.

Paint is a powerful tool that can enhance the architectural character and intent of space, says Minneapolis architect Petra Schwartze of TEA2 Architects. “As you choose your paint, think about what the experience in the room should be.”

  • Always sample paint colors on a few walls. Don’t be shy about painting a few large swaths on walls and trim to consider the effect of natural and artificial lighting. Add samples to opposite sides of a room to judge the paint color from different angles.
  • Check the space with the samples in place and watch how the paint color changes at different times of the day.
  • Evaluate your reaction to the proposed colors: Does the space feel cozy or is the openness enhanced?

How to enlarge space with color

Painting walls white, cream, pastels, or cool colors (tinged with blue or green) creates the illusion of more space by reflecting light. Paint trim similar to walls (or use white on trim) to ensure a seamless appearance that visually expands space.

White or light colors lift a ceiling; darker shades can have a similar effect if you select a high-gloss paint sheen, which reflects light and enhances space.

Employ a monochromatic scheme to amplify the dimensions of a room. Select furnishings in one color and paint walls and trim to match. Lack of contrast makes a room seem more spacious.

Make walls appear taller by extending wall color onto the ceiling. Create a 6- to 12-inch-wide border of wall color on the entire ceiling perimeter, or wherever walls meet the ceiling.

Vertical and horizontal stripes of alternating color can make a room grand. While vertical stripes enhance room height by drawing the eye upward, horizontal stripes lure your gaze around the perimeter, making walls seem further away. Use similar light colors for low-contrast stripes, and your room will look even larger.

Creating intimacy

When a space feels cavernous, draw walls inward and make it cozy with warm colors (red-tinged) because darker hues absorb light. Similarly, a dark or warm color overhead (in a flat finish) helps make rooms with high or vaulted ceilings less voluminous.

Give peace a chance

The right paint choice can lend tranquility to a bathroom, master suite, or other quiet, personal space. A palette of soft, understated color or muted tones help you instill a calming atmosphere. Some good choices include pale lavenders, light grays or greens, and wispy blues.

Define your assets

Call out notable features in a room with paint. Dress crown mouldings and other trims in white to make them pop against walls with color. Make a fireplace or other feature a focal point by painting it a color that contrasts with walls.

Using a higher sheen of paint on woodwork, such as baseboards and door or window casings, creates a crisp edge and clear transition from the wall to the trim.

Hide flaws

Not everything should stand out in a space. Using a low-contrast palette is a good way to hide unappealing elements or flaws. Conduit, radiators, and other components painted the same color as the wall will seem to disappear.

Selecting low-sheen or flat paint colors also helps hide flaws. Unless walls are smooth, avoid using high-gloss paint because it reflects light and calls attention to an uneven surface.

What’s the cost?

As a DIY job, painting a 12-by-12-ft. space costs about $150, including paint, primer, brushes, drop cloths, and other painting tools and supplies. A professionally painted room using high-quality, brand-name paint costs $200-$400.

 

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The Home Buying Process

The Home Buyer’s Road Map

The Home Buying Process

The Home Buying Process

Buying a Home in California: Nine basic Steps:

  1. Consult A Realtor – Starting your journey with a Realtor is a wise beginning. An experienced local Realtor not only knows the neighborhoods and values, but can bring together a team of real estate professionals that can give you expert service. Your real estate agent will help you find the lender and loan product that works for your specific needs. A real estate agent will have a team of inspectors, title attorney, and service specialists to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle are there.
  2. Pre-Approval – With the recommendation of your Realtor, a credible, local lender will be your first stop on the road. Often with just a phone call, your lender can pre-approve you for an amount that will guide you in your home search. Not knowing how much you can afford often leads buyers down an “imaginary road”, where they get their hopes set on something that they may not be able to afford, only to find disappointment.Equally important, the lender issues a Pre-Approval Letter that is of utmost value when a buyer makes an offer. Without it, the sellers will not take the offer seriously.
  3. House Hunting – Your realtor will be invaluable in helping you navigate the local neighborhoods. An experienced agent can listen to your wants and needs, and guide you to the neighborhood and the home that is right for you.
  4. Making an Offer – Your agent will do an analysis of the current values, helping you know what the home is worth in the present market, with the level of interest and conditions. This will guide you to make an offer that will stand the best chance of acceptance, while keeping your best interests in mind. There are many parts to a good, strong offer:
    a. Market Value
    b. Contingencies – Financing, Home Inspection, Appraisal, Time frames… these are just a few.
    c. Time Frames
    d. Seller’s Motivations
    e. Loan Product
    f. Strategies – Many people don’t realize that there is a strategy involved in reaching a “win-win” in the home buying process.
  5. Negotiations
  6. Formal Loan Application
  7. Inspections
  8. Appraisal
  9. Closing! - Your Realtor can help you coordinate the paperwork and all the moving parts of the transaction.

Most home buyers will purchase a home an average of one time every 7 to 10 years. Your local real estate agent helps buyers and sellers every day, 365 days a year, with hundreds of transactions accounted to their experience. Let that experience work for you as you embark on your home buyer’s journey!

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White-Rodgers Recalls Home Heating and Cooling Thermostats Due to Fire Hazard

White-Rodgers Recalls Home Heating and Cooling Thermostats Due to Fire Hazard

Name of Product: Home Heating and Cooling Thermostats

Hazard: The alkaline batteries used in the thermostat can leak onto the circuit board posing a fire hazard.

Remedy: Consumers should check thermostats for battery icon on the left side of the blue lighted screen, if the battery icon is not shown, contact White-Rodgers to receive a free repair or a replacement thermostat.

Consumer Contact: White-Rodgers toll-free at (888) 624-1901 from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT Monday through Friday or online at http://www.white-rodgers.com and click on “White-Rodgers 1F8x-04xx Thermostat Recall” at the lower left corner of the homepage for more information.

Recall Details

Units: About 740,000 in the United States and 403,000 in Canada

Description: This recall involves four models of White-Rodgers digital thermostats. The thermostats are white with blue lighted screens and have one of the following names printed on the front of them: “COMFORTSENTRY,” “DICO,” “Emerson,” “Frigidaire,” “Maytag,” “Nutone,” “Partners Choice,” “Rheem,” “Ruud,” “Unico,” “Water Furnace,” “Westinghouse,” “White-Rodgers” or “Zonefirst.” The thermostats have a battery door on the top left corner. There are three or four buttons to the right and also below the thermostat screen. Recalled thermostats do not show a battery icon on the left side of the blue lighted screen.

Incidents/Injuries: The firm has received seven reports of burn damage to the thermostat, including two involving minor property damage. No injuries have been reported.

Sold at: Heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment manufacturers and distributors and at hardware retailers nationwide from January 2006 through December 2013 for about $30 to $70.

Distributor: White-Rodgers of St. Louis, Mo., a division of Emerson Climate Technologies.

Manufactured in: China.

 

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6 Staging Pitfalls Sellers Should Avoid

nice-staging

Here are a few of the biggest pitfalls we’ve seen when sellers over-stage a home.

1. Don’t be dull

Are you selling a hotel room? No? Then a home shouldn’t look like a hotel! The purpose of staging is not to make the home boring and bland. The goal of staging is to get the potential buyer to feel that the home looks nice all the time, so it should feel like real—but incredibly neat!—people live there. As agents, we typically prefer boring over cluttered and crazy, but remember, a few spots of color photograph well and will stand out in listing photos. Simple touches add subtle interest, like a red throw pillow or a turquoise fruit bowl—just don’t go too wild.

2. Selling with smell

Ir can be tough to keep a listing in tip-top shape for spur of the moment showings. Of course, no one wants a home to smell like last night’s beef stroganoff when a potential buyer arrives. But many sellers overcompensate with potpourri and air fresheners. Beware of overwhelming a serious buyer with seriously strong scents. A home should smell fresh and clean, but not heavily perfumed. Your best bet is to invest in a deep clean to remove lingering smells and avoid cooking anything too potent during the list time.

3. The sound of music

Ditch the tunes. Mood music backfires more often than not. You won’t be able to guess the buyer’s musical tastes, and it can make some buyers feel like they’re being manipulated.

4. The elephant graveyard

Sometimes it’s necessary for the homeowners to move out before the house sells. But too many sellers take their best furniture and possessions with them to their new home, leaving only the most run-down furniture behind. In a sparsely furnished house, it’s even more important that the pieces left behind are tasteful and add to the ambiance of the home. The old sectional sofa sitting forlornly in an empty living room will just make the house feel abandoned. The house should be well furnished or completely empty. Not somewhere in between.

5. Wasting money on the wrong renovations

Many sellers undertake huge projects right before they sell. Perhaps the bathroom is outdated, and they’ve always wanted to fix it up. But it’s hard for sellers to guess which renovations will provide the greatest return on the investment. Small touches like new cabinet hardware or new light fixtures might go a long way toward making the home feel up to date, without doing a major renovation costing tens of thousands of dollars.

6. Remove clutter, don’t just move it around

We say this to virtually every client: When it comes to selling a home, less is more. An uncluttered home makes listing photos more attractive, which translates to more showings, and it makes the house feel open and airy. But it rarely works to try to hide the clutter. A serious buyer will want to look under the hood, kick the tires a little. That means they’ll explore the basement, open up your closets, and even look under your sink. So it’s important to get rid of extra belongings. It might seem like a lot of work, but it will make it easier to move out once you get the offer you’ve been waiting for.

Trulia 
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