Advice – Homeowners Insurance Tips and News Fri, 28 Jun 2013 15:01:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Identify and Eliminate Mold Mon, 16 Jul 2012 19:07:19 +0000 The Dangers of Mold

Mold is a common but potentially dangerous substance found in many homes and other buildings. There are thousands of varieties, but the most common are greenish, white, brown or black in color and often have a dusty texture. While trace amounts of mold exist in the air and on surfaces, prolonged exposure to household mold can cause a number of health issues.

Exposure to molds like Alternaria can trigger hay fever-like allergic symptoms, coughing and wheezing, as well as nasal stuffiness and eye or skin irritation. People with chronic respiratory diseases may experience difficulty breathing or develop fungal infections in their lungs. More serious reactions to molds have been reported, but the link between these symptoms and mold exposure has not been conclusively proven.

Mold flourishes in moist, humid environments. Nutrients that encourage mold to develop can be found in many building supplies. Spores can enter the home from the outside through open doors and windows as well as heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Airborne spores also attach themselves to people and animals and are thus carried indoors.

Common Household Sources of Mold

Paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles and wood products that have been exposed to moisture encourage the growth of certain molds. Mold can also grow in dust, lint, paints, wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall, carpet and upholstery. Leaking roofs, pipes, walls or even plant pots will support mold growth as well. Water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation or flooding all contribute to the spread of mold in the home, particularly the highly toxic Stachybotrys chartarum, a greenish black mold.

Best Treatments for Eliminating Mold

Mold can usually be eliminated from hard surfaces by a thorough cleaning with products like Mold Armor or Moldex, soap and water or a bleach solution of 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. If the mold is present in porous or absorbent materials, those may need to be thrown away.

To keep mold out of the house, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises use of an air conditioner or dehumidifier. The home should have sufficient ventilation, including exhaust fans in kitchen and bathrooms. If repainting is necessary, mold inhibitors can be added to paints. Bathrooms should be carpet free and cleaned with mold-killing products. Water leaks, condensation, infiltration or flooding should be corrected to prevent mold from growing and the home inspected for indications of visible mold. Serious cases will require professional mold removal services such as ServiceMaster Clean.

Permanent Mold Solutions

Serious mold problems will require professional cleaning services and may even lead to extensive home repairs. Homeowners facing restoration issues can consult expert repair sites such as This Old House, Mr. Handyman or Bob Vila. It may be possible for homeowners to make minor repairs on their own; however, professional services from a company like SERVPRO, which offers restoration for significant mold damage, could become necessary.

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8 Apps for Decorating Your Stylish Home Mon, 18 Jun 2012 14:30:42 +0000 Decorating your home can be a challenge when you constantly have to measure things, collect paint and fabric swatches, and compare furniture pieces in your head. However, with the right apps aiding your home decor ventures, you can have beautiful design right at your fingertips. Apps make decorating substantially easier, as they can store a great deal of information into a tiny piece of software. With the right apps, not only can you design your ideal room right on your phone, but you can also buy home furnishing products with a single click.

  1. Design Master

    Design Master is specifically formulated for your iPad, as it would be too difficult to navigate on an iPhone, and is extremely helpful if you can’t easily visualize what a piece of furniture might look like in your room. Simply snap a photo of your room using your iPad’s camera or choose a pre-existing photo from your library and then add items on top of the photo, choosing decor and other items from a catalogue within the app. You can resize and change the colors of furniture as you place them in the room as needed. You can also rotate them for different views. After completing your room, you can save it to your library for easy reference or email it to a friend. The app comes in three different versions depending on your designing needs — interior, hospitality, and exterior. The hospitality app works best for designers planning an event, with items like podiums and clothed tables in its inventory. Interior and exterior are self-explanatory, and both can be useful for home furnishing. Each version costs $9.99.

  2. Color Capture

    The Color Capture app by Benjamin Moore allows you to take a photo of anything using your phone or tablet and match it to corresponding paint chips from Benjamin Moore’s extensive library. You can then locate Benjamin Moore retailers in your area from within the app. The app is especially useful if you’re trying to develop a specific color palette in a room. You may get inspiration from a color combination you see in nature, and the app allows you to capture that moment and take it to your walls and furnishings. You can also add notes concerning your findings. The app is free and distributed both for Apple and Android products.

  3. MySurface

    Corian and Zodiaq produce different kinds of surfaces for homes, such as marble, granite, and tile. With the MySurface app, you can browse through the entire catalogue of surfaces from Corian and Zodiaq and save swatches of your favorites for quick reference. This makes it simple when you are discussing surface options with your decorator, or client if you happen to be an interior designer yourself. The photos used for surfaces are high-definition and you can hold them up to a surface to visualize what it might look like with a particular stone or tile. You can also browse through a gallery of furniture with different surface treatments for inspiration. The app is free for the iPhone or iPad.

  4. Remodelista

    If you can’t seem to find that perfect light fixture for your kitchen, browse the Remodelista app for ideas. Remodelista is constantly updated to bring you the newest trends in design products for your home. You can search by the room — kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, you name it — and browse the ever-expanding list of top-of-the-line products. The app also has DIY instructions for projects. Browse through images of furnished rooms and click “steal this look” for broken down pricing and retail information on various items. The app does product roundups on a regular basis. Save your favorite items to customizable folders for individual projects as you see fit. If you fall in love with a product, you can click “Buy Now” to purchase it directly from your phone or tablet. The full Remodelista app costs $2.99, but also comes in a lite version for free.

  5. Photo Measures

    The Photo Measures app by Big Blue Pixel allows you to photograph a room and input different dimensions for furniture, walls, and other objects in your virtual blueprint. You draw straight onto the photo and then add in the numerical values as measured out by hand. Measurements can be saved in imperial or metric units and the app intuitively recognizes angles. A high resolution copy of the photo can be exported to email to print out a hard copy. The app is a must for anyone trying to figure out if a specific piece of furniture will fit in a room before purchasing it. Given that you’ll have your exact measurements at hand on the go, you can claim that IKEA desk without worrying that it’ll be a tight squeeze next to your couch. The app costs $4.99, unless you purchase the free lite version.

  6. iHandy Level

    The iHandy Level from iHandy Inc. is a functioning level that you can use right from your iPhone. Like any level, you place the iPhone on a surface and it determines whether the surface is straight or slanted. However, the app is not only functional, but aesthetically pleasing, with a wood grain background and lighting effects. Plus, it’s absolutely free. The iHandy Level is the perfect solution for aligning artwork on your wall. It calibrates with a variety of surfaces, detecting verticality, angle measurement, incline, and roof pitch calculation.

  7. Pinterest

    You are probably more than acquainted with Pinterest already, but it can be a great website for getting decorating ideas. The Pinterest app is suitable for your iPhone and works almost identically to the website, in which you browse, favorite, and pin your own items to customizable boards. You can also take photos with your iPhone camera and pin them to Pinterest. If you’re looking for a specific decorating item, you can use the keyword search to narrow down the results. Pinterest also offers some of the best DIY ideas on the web.

  8. Mark On Call

    The Mark On Call app comes in two different versions depending on whether you intend to use it on your iPhone or on your iPad, but both are great resources for anyone taking on the challenge of interior design. Created by interior designer Mark Lewison, the app helps you conceive and carry out any design you please. You can map out a design of an existing room or an imaginary room, add dimensions to furniture using a crosshair cursor, and add “skin” surface textures onto things to see what something would like with a particular surface. You can create shopping lists of various items you’ll need to bring your room to life. You can also see how your interior design measures up by applying Mark’s Ten Commandments of Interior Design to a room. Both the iPhone and the iPad version are sold for $1.99 in the iTunes store.

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Feng Shui Rules to Live By Thu, 14 Jun 2012 13:22:26 +0000 Whenever you are buying a new home, decorating, or even making changes in your current home, do you pay attention to feng shui? It seems that there are people who strictly follow it, and then some that will only occasionally follow it. Developed over 3,000 years ago in China, Feng Shui is a ancient art form that is used to bring positive energy into one’s life by balancing the energies in any given space. Whatever your take on it, the principles behind the ancient discipline can benefit almost any home.


Probably one of the most important rooms in your home is the entryway. The entryway will be the room that people see most when they come over to your home, but is also one that you will use on a daily basis and often take for granted. The outside entryway will also set a precedent of what people should expect in your home, so you want to make sure you start here.

  • Make sure it is eye- catching: Everyone wants to believe that their house is the most beautiful house. Since most people won’t see the inside, you need to start with the outside. Make sure that you have bright lighting so that your walk way is visible. Also, use plants that will stay beautiful year round.
  • Get rid of the cluster: Next time you think about droping your mail off inside the door, don’t. You do not want a lot of clutter upon entering the home. It needs to be as inviting as possible. Make sure that there are no broken steps and that the inside is as breathable as possible.


Another important room that is often overlooked in terms of decorating is the kitchen. In our fast paced society, not a lot of people have time to cook and spend hours slaving over the stove. So if you are never in there, why should you care what it looks like? Well first of all, you need to spend time there. Spend time with your family cooking great, nutritious meals. It will benefit your family in the long run. Not only will your health improve but so will your closeness.

  • Color: Color is essential in any feng shui element, but particularly in the kitchen. With the use of water and your stove and appliances, you already have fire and water playing against each other. Therefore, you will want to stay away from fire colors such as red and orange. These colors have been proven to make your brain associate them with hunger so your waistline will appreciate it also. Make sure to use cooling colors. Pale yellow is thought to be one of the best options.
  • Layout: Along with color, you will also want to think about the placement of your appliances. How easy would it be if your sink was across from the stove? Well, do not do it. You will put water and fire in direct contrast. This alignment is said to increase arguments in the household.


For some, their room is their sanctuary. They love to spend time cuddled up in their room, but is it really inviting? There are certain elements of feng shui that will make your bedroom more relaxing and will help aide your sleep habits.

  • Bed: Obviously the most important part of the room should have the most rules associated with it. When it comes to placement of the bed you want to make sure that it is placed opposite the door and usually up against the farthest wall. You will want to have a solid headboard like wood or leather and new sheets. Why new sheets? When you replace the bedding every year, it adds fresh energy to the room.
  • Decoration: As we mentioned, color is key to feng shui, so in the bedroom you will want to make sure that you use warm colors and flesh tones. These colors are said to spice up the room and increase romance. Any decoration elements should usually be displayed in pairs. Also, if you want to keep the room romantic then get rid of all electronics and exercise equipment. There are better places for these things.
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Home Sweet Home Gone Wrong Mon, 11 Jun 2012 15:31:20 +0000 Owning a home can be an exciting time in life, especially for first time buyers. However, there are a handful of scams of which new homeowners should be wary about. Given the current state of the economy, protecting your money and credit has become increasingly more important. Unfortunately, scammers are equally motivated to pick-pocket for cash whenever they can and will use a variety of creative tactics.


Home Repairs

In Massachusetts, a 92-year-old man was scammed out of $90,000 for various “home repairs” that three men conducted. Although they actually did work, it was hardly worth the massive fees they incurred. The men allegedly charged the elderly gentleman $8,000 for a five-hour job cleaning out his basement according to CBS News. Neither the man nor his 70-year-old daughter found the charges odd. Thankfully, the men were arrested and face charges for larceny among other things.

The lesson learned here is to pay close attention to what and how you pay for home repairs. Even professional services can overcharge for painting or plumbing fixes. Comparing rates is the best strategy to avoid paying too much for menial work.



Don’t let one natural disaster turn into another. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) published a press release warning homeowners not to be tricked into accepting damage clean-up service offers from “reputable” contractors. Although there are certainly legitimate providers, there are also a high number of door-to-door vendors who will take your money without returning to do the work you paid for.

Those who do show up might use poor quality materials or repairs that aren’t worth the cost. More recently, the NICB mentioned a scam that involves contractors doing further damage to your home to try to convince you further services are needed. Others will have you file a claim on damage that occurred over the years prior to the storm, while claiming that it actually was storm-related damage. Careful oversight of these proceedings, should you choose to hire contract work after a storm, will prevent risk of these scams.


Waterline Letters

Playing off the assumptions and ignorance of some homeowners, scams are popping up on technical issues as well. Anita Liggins noticed something was odd about the letter she received in the mail about her responsibilities relative to her waterlines. The letter was from HomeServe USA, who claimed she was responsible for the maintenance and repair of certain exterior waterlines and suggested she look into purchasing insurance from them.

Because of the suspicious elements of the letter (lack of return address, zip code tracking back to a different area than stated in the letter, etc.), Liggins made a few phone calls to determine the legitimacy of the suggestion. Apparently she was not the only one who received the letter scam. Several similar cases were reported for the same area according to WAFB News. The Newport, Ore. City Police website notes that this scam is occurring in multiple cities. Although the letters appear to be from the city, the company is usually illegitimate.



By far the most common — and usually most expensive — scam on homeowners is related to mortgages. The California Association of Realtors President LeFancis Arnold stated that mortgage fraud complaints have jumped nationwide by 60% this year alone. Experts think this may be related to the fact that the housing market is in such a desperate state and homeowners are more vulnerable than ever to the appeal of saving money on lower rates.

This is the leverage scammers use to obtain credit information and make fast cash off of homeowners who are deceived by the perceived legitimacy of the mortgage companies. In one instance, a man was called by a company who claimed they could drop his payments from $783 a month to $386. After collecting the fee of $1,900 up front, they informed him that he could quit paying his monthly mortgage. Of course, it was not long afterwards that the bank foreclosed on his condo as payments ceased.

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Home Cleaning Products: Hazards and Homemade Alternatives Fri, 25 May 2012 18:19:49 +0000 The average American doesn’t put much thought into what goes into household cleaners. While it’s not surprising that cleaners contain chemicals, the true health and environmental costs associated with chemical cleaners are often ignored.

Toxins in Households Cleaners

Everyone knows that household cleaners contain chemicals, but most people are not aware how toxic these chemicals can be to humans and animals. Yahoo points out the alarming fact that many of these toxins have a pronounced carcinogenic effect. Carcinogens are substances that have been directly linked to an increased instance of cancer.

Not only do household cleaners pose risks when people are exposed to them in the manner that they were intended to be used, but millions of children are poisoned every year due to accidental ingestion of cleaners. The use of household cleaners has been linked to an increase in dangerous indoor air pollution. People may not be aware that indoor air pollution can pose significant risks in the same way that outdoor pollution can. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that over 11,000 people die every year as a result of indoor air pollution.

The Environmental Impact of Household Cleaners

National Geographic states that household cleaners contain chemicals that can be harmful to the environment such as ammonia, nitrogen and phosphorus. Phosphorus is the main ingredient in dishwasher detergent and enters the waterways after being drained from a dishwasher. This chemical builds up in the water system over time and is difficult to filter during the water treatment process. High concentrations of phosphorus have been linked to an accelerated growth of algae that has been known to kill fish and disturb the ecosystem in affected areas.

Fumes from household cleaners contribute to air pollution both indoors and outdoors. People may be surprised that one of the contributing factors of smog is the use of chemical household cleaners.

Occupational Health Hazards Related to Cleaners

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) acknowledges that workers in the cleaning industry are regularly exposed to high concentrations of harmful chemicals. One way to cut down on the risk of health hazards associated with this exposure is by following all OSHA standards that are in place regarding the use of chemical cleaners.

Employees in the cleaning industry may also consider talking to employers about the possibility of using natural cleaning methods.

The Finances of Household Cleaners

The costs of household cleaners are not only related to health and the environment. CBS Pittsburgh reports that Americans spend nearly $10 billion on household cleaning products every year. Households can improve health, help the environment and save money by taking the effort to make cleaning products at home.

Safe Alternatives to Household Cleaners

The Lehigh County, Pennsylvania website provides a comprehensive list of recipes for safe homemade cleaners. Some highlights from the list are summarized below.

  • A small amount of vinegar placed in a saucer can effectively eliminate foul odors in a room.
  • Baking soda is commonly used to absorb odors in enclosed areas such as a refrigerator, cabinet, trash can or litter box.
  • Thyme leaves that have been steeped in boiling water make a chemical-free disinfectant.
  • A mixture containing equal parts water and vinegar can be used in place of a window cleaner.
  • Clogged drains can be opened by pouring a quarter of a cup of salt down the drain and following the salt up with a pot of boiling water.
  • Bathroom mildew, lime deposits and tub rings can all be cleaned by rubbing a sponge soaked in vinegar over the affected areas. Follow the vinegar with a scrubbing of baking soda.
  • Wood floors can be polished with a mixture containing equal parts vinegar and vegetable oil.
  • Tile floors can be cleaned with a mixture containing equal parts vinegar and water.

Safe Methods for Spot Cleaning

Spot cleaning should be addressed separately because effectively removing spots can rely heavily on the type of stain that is being removed. Most substances that stain furniture or carpets can be removed through the use of common household products without adding toxic chemicals to the mix. The list below sourced from the information found at Top Green Cleaning provides spot cleaning tips for specific stain types.

  • Soak up as much of a liquid stain as possible before starting to spot clean.
  • Use club soda or salt to remove a wine stain. Salt is able to absorb the stain. If using salt as a spot cleaning method, make sure that the stain is completely covered.
  • Use a paste made of baking soda and water to remove grease stains. The mixture should be rubbed on the area that is stained and allowed to sit for a minimum of 15 minutes.
  • Use a mixture of water, vinegar and liquid soap to take care of any type of stain that is found on a carpeted area. The exact mixture should consist of one quart of water with three tablespoons of vinegar and two tablespoons of liquid soap mixed in. Take care not to soak the carpet with the mixture during the cleaning process.
  • Stained clothing can be pretreated with a mixture that is equal parts baking soda and vinegar.
  • Hydrogen peroxide is a safe way to treat scorch stains on clothing and blood stains on any surface. Apply the peroxide with some water and allow the mixture to work overnight.
  • Rust stains can be treated with a soaking of vinegar followed by a salt scrub. If the item that is stained is a clothing item, allow the clothing to dry fully after this spot cleaning process before putting the item into a washing machine.

Consumers can protect their families and pets by using natural and homemade household cleaners in place of harsh, dangerous chemical cleaners. Use the tips listed above to create a safe and clean environment at home.

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Renting with Pets: Information for the Landlord and Pet Owner Fri, 25 May 2012 13:32:21 +0000 Renting with Pets: Information for the Landlord & Pet Owner

Pets are becoming more popular with many people, and those who own them usually think of their pets as members of their families. They would never consider moving to a home where their pets were not welcome. However, some tenants move pets into their homes without telling the owners because it is often difficult for them to find housing when they admit to owning pets. The majority of pets do not cause problems, but a few troublemakers give bad reputations to the others. You may have heard of dogs that chew woodwork and cats that shred curtains, but those tales are rare. You normally do not hear about well-behaved pets because they are more common and not as interesting to talk about.

Finding a Home to Share with Your Pet

Pet owners often have problems locating nice rental properties that welcome pets, but these tips found at Renting With Pets may help shorten the process.

  • Begin contacting rental agencies and searching newspaper and online ads several months before you plan to move if possible.
  • Contact the animal control agency or humane society in the area where you will be living to ask if they have lists of pet-friendly rental properties.
  • Concentrate on individual homes and condominiums or communities with guidelines that pet owners must follow.
  • Assemble evidence that verifies your responsibility regarding pets. The documents can include references from previous landlords, letters from your veterinarian, proof of vaccinations and sterilization as well as certificates from obedience classes.
  • Invite prospective landlords to visit your current home to meet your pet, observe its behavior and see the condition in which you keep your home. If a visit is not possible, make a small scrapbook and résumé for your pet.
  • Offer to pay an extra deposit to cover any potential damage your pet may cause.
  • Never sneak your pet into a home where pets are not welcome.

After the Move

Some of the following tips concerning the challenges of keeping a pet in rental properties come from Pet-Friendly Housing – How to Rent With Pets.

  • If possible, stay home with your pet for the first few days after your move to help it adjust to the new surroundings.
  • Do not allow your pet to disturb your neighbors with noise, odors, messiness or any other nuisance.
  • Immediately resolve any problems that your pet causes.
  • Make sure your pets get plenty of exercise every day because bored pets are more likely than happy, contented pets to damage property.
  • Keep your pet on a leash at all times when it is outside, and avoid situations where it may become aggressive.
  • Never leave your dog alone more than 12 hours, and do not leave a cat alone over 24 hours at a time.

Advice for Landlords

According to Renting to Pet Owners, people who own pets are often better tenants than are those who do not have pets. Many property owners claim that careless or thoughtless tenants and their children cause more damages and complaints from neighbors than pets cause.

Advantages of renting to pet owners seem to outweigh the disadvantages.

  • You can collect higher rents and deposits from pet owners.
  • Tenants tend to remain in their homes or apartments longer when they have pets because of the difficulty they have in finding appropriate housing.
  • Pet owners usually spend more time at home and contribute to increased security in the area.
  • You will have more potential tenants from which to choose when you have a vacancy if you allow pets.
  • Pets with good manners and grooming usually have responsible owners who care about their surroundings and take good care of their homes.

Create an Effective Policy to Welcome Pets

You will attract more applicants for rental properties if they are aware that you allow them to keep pets. Advertise in your ads and on your signs that pets are welcome at the properties. Contact your local Humane Society to let them know that you will accept pets in your rental properties.

Safety and consideration for others are the major concerns for landlords who rent to tenants with pets. Damage to carpets and infestations of fleas or ticks are worries as well. Lessen the chances of future problems by creating a comprehensive pet agreement to cover all damages or other concerns you may have about allowing pets in your properties.

Attach the pet agreement to your rental contract, and require the tenants to sign and date both documents. The agreement should name the type, breed, weight and name of the pet and require tenants to agree that they will:

  • assume responsibility for their pets’ maintenance and control
  • keep their pets restrained when they are outside
  • obey local animal ordinances
  • refrain from leaving their pets alone for long periods
  • clean up after their pets
  • keep their pet’s food and water inside to avoid attracting other animals
  • control their pet’s noise or aggression
  • resolve any complaints immediately
  • refrain from allowing their pets to reproduce
  • immediately pay for any damages their pets cause
  • pay for extermination expenses if necessary
  • attach a photo of their pet to the agreement
  • sign a new agreement if they get a different pet
  • grant owners the right to cancel the agreement if tenants do not abide by the rules
  • grant owners the right to dispose of any animals not listed on the agreement

You can find additional suggestions for creating pet policies at Realty Times. Some of those ideas include allowing no more than two pets in each unit and requiring cats, dogs and rabbits to be neutered. Cats and dogs must have periodic rabies shots and wear identification collars as well.

Avoid Renting to Irresponsible Pet Owners

  • Ask prospective renters to provide proof of their pets’ vaccinations and sterilizations
  • Contact their previous landlords and inquire about any problems or concerns they may have had with your applicants
  • If possible, visit potential renters and their pets in their current homes
  • Evaluate each situation on an individual basis
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20 Common Household Problems That Can Turn into Nightmares Thu, 24 May 2012 20:18:46 +0000 When it comes to many household problems, some people just think “Oh, I’ll get to that tomorrow,” and don’t address the issue until it’s too late. Whether it’s a leaky faucet, a crack in the wall, animal infestation or a dirty chimney, these common problems don’t seem like a big deal to most people but in reality, they can end up costing you a lot of money with significant damages to your home and can even endanger the welfare of you and your family. It is important to maintain and keep good care of your home and all that goes into it. With that said, let’s take a look at 20 common household problems that can turn into nightmares.

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8 Essential Home Inspection Tips for Home Buyers Fri, 18 May 2012 20:26:03 +0000 The home inspection is one of the most important steps before buying a home. For home buyers, it may be grounds for negotiating price offers, renovations, or necessary fixes. As a fairly comprehensive diagnostic test on the condition of your future home, it is designed to educate both buyers and sellers about deficiencies and problems that should be taken care of to prevent long-term damage. Some issues require immediate attention, and others may be grounds for negotiating fixes prior to moving in. Here are some essential tips on what to pay particular attention to when getting a home inspection.

  1. Attend the inspection

    It is to your advantage to attend the home inspection for your potential new home. Professional inspectors always encourage clients to go to their inspection and accompany them throughout the process in order to see first-hand what is going on. Inspectors will point out problem-areas and arm you with valuable, detailed information regarding the home you may be purchasing. Not being present during an inspection may make it harder to understand the home inspection report, which puts you at a disadvantage when negotiating terms with the seller.

  2. Look for foundation movement

    A common and major problem found in home inspections are signs of foundational movement. Grade sloping or erosion may contribute to cracks in the foundation, which could lead to expensive problems in the future. The inspector will look out for these signs, but it doesn’t hurt to be also be on the lookout for misaligned windows and doors, hairline cracks on the walls or foundation, and uneven gaps on the floor. Don’t hesitate to move furniture and rugs to get a closer look.

  3. Check all electrical systems

    Older homes are notorious for ill-equipped electrical systems. For example, bathrooms may not be wired sufficiently for modern gadgets and are prone to overheating. Be sure all electrical outlets have enough load to support TVs, computers, and other large electrical items. The heating and cooling system also must be top shape; if the system is outdated, consider replacements for an energy efficient model. Also, be on the watch for any exposed wires, which should be corrected by a licensed electrician.

  4. Expect the worst, but assess deal-breakers

    Before an inspection, you should make a mental note of certain deal-breakers the inspection may find. Major fixes can be potentially a major financial blow, so research major red flags and assess your willingness to deal with these issues. Things like mold, termites, cracked foundations, and wiring issues can be quite problematic and hazardous to your health. Knowing what you’re willing to fix and not fix will help you make a more educated decision when faced with inspection results.

  5. Inspect the inspector

    Not all states require home inspectors to be licensed or adhere to a certain standard. There is also no comprehensive background or certification that fully trains an individual for all the conditions that may exist in a home. Even in areas where licensing exists, some programs fall short. It is your responsibility to make sure the home inspector is formally trained or certified to perform a thorough home inspection. This may be done by confirming that the inspector is backed by the National Institute of Building Inspectors (NIBI) or other formal organizations like the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI), which insures their knowledge of inspection and the home buying process. It also helps to ask for a reference from your realtor or other people you know.

  6. Insist on detailed descriptions in the inspection report

    The inspection report should provide comprehensive and detailed descriptions for each item inspected. Words like “good,” “fair,” or “poor” without an accompanying explanation can be interpreted in many ways. If your inspection report is filled with vague words and no succinct description or recommendation for repairs, ask the inspector to elaborate with a more descriptive report. Take time to make sure you understand the conditions of each item and ask questions.

  7. Make sure utilities are on in vacant homes

    Prior to your inspection appointment, make sure with the seller that utilities will be turned on to avoid rescheduling another inspection. While vacant properties may be easier to inspect (visually) than an occupied one, there are some major disadvantages. If homes have been vacant for a long time, it may have caused accelerated deterioration of mechanical systems due to bearing and seal damage. There also may be some loopholes in the inspection like undetected leaks and water stains that are not visible due to lack of normal water usage.

  8. Compare home inspection checklists

    All home inspections can be drastically different and vary from state to state, as well as from accredited associations, counties, and cities. Compare the guidelines of reputable organizations and see which checklist suits your potential home best. There are some inspections that do not include asbestos, radon, rodents, lead, or mold, so be aware of what your inspection includes before hiring an inspector.

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Top Ten Spots for Roof Leaks Thu, 17 May 2012 14:52:36 +0000 Roof leaks are among homeowners’ biggest fears. Every now and then, they can be signs that a roof needs to be completely replaced, and no one wants to deal with such a major expense. Not surprisingly, most leaks are initially discovered during powerful rain storms. However, if water has built up beneath the shingles over time, they can occur at seemingly random times too. Ice and snow can also alert homeowners to roof leaks. One thing’s for sure: You shouldn’t ignore the problem. As soon as evidence of a leak occurs, you need to track down its source. It’s more than likely coming from one of the following ten places.

  1. Chimney

    The chimney is a common spot for roof leaks to originate. Four different types of flashing can be used to seal water out of the chimney, so there are many possible causes. Even the tiniest of cracks in the flashing can cause water to pool up and cause leaks. At the soldered corners of the flashing, cracks are often found too. Caulk should never be used in this case. The damaged flashing or counter-flashing should be replaced instead.

  2. Gutter

    Clogged or damaged gutters are often to blame for roof leaks, which is why it’s so important to keep your gutters in good shape. Clean them out regularly, or hire someone to do it for you. The goal is to keep water flowing off the roof as quickly as possible.

  3. Ice Dams

    If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, your roof’s ice dams can block melting water from moving down and away from it. In turn, water can build up beneath the shingles and under the flashings. If this continually happens, you’ll need to have membranes installed beneath the roof.

  4. Wall Step Flashings

    Step flashing is used where slanting areas of the roof meet with vertical walls. At each new row of shingles, another piece of flashing is used where the roof meets the wall. When it’s in good shape and properly installed, each piece of flashing should extend partially onto the wall, and the other end of it should be partially covered by a shingle. Rust and holes commonly occur on these flashings, or they may become loose. If holes or rust have developed, the flashing should be replaced. If the flashing is simply loose, it should be secured again with fresh caulk.

  5. Head Wall Flashings

    This type of flashing is used where roofs end directly at vertical walls. In these areas, each piece of flashing should extend at least three inches over the shingle. Caulking won’t work if there are cracks or gaps. Roof cement and tar won’t either. The flashing should be secured firmly again if it is loose, or it should be replaced if it is damaged.

  6. Furnace Flashings

    These flashings are used to seal the areas around furnace vents, which extend out of the roof. They consist of aluminum flashing, a rubber seal and a metal storm collar. A loose storm collar can cause leaks. If yours is loose, tighten it. The vent itself may be damaged and should be replaced. Cracked rubber seals can also be the source of the problem. Each component should be carefully examined.

  7. Plumbing Vent Flashings

    These flashings seal plumbing vents that extend out of the roof. They’re nearly identical to furnace flashings. The main difference if they don’t have metal storm collars. Look for cracked rubber seals and loose or damaged flashing.

  8. Valleys

    Roof valleys are easy to identify; they are where to planes of a roof meet to form a valley. These can be sealed in several different ways. If metal flashing is used, check to make sure that it’s securely fastened and doesn’t have any rust or holes. If rolled roofing is used, check for corrosion and make sure it isn’t loose. Sometimes, shingles are simply laced together at the valley. In this case, the best solution is to install a metal flashing. There’s no way to use caulk or cement to patch holes reliably.

  9. Shingle Fields

    It’s exceedingly rare for roof leaks to occur on the broad expanses that are known as shingle fields. When they do happen, it’s usually due to small holes and loose shingles. In the case of small holes, don’t simply patch them with caulk. Slip a piece of flashing beneath the shingle first. Once that’s done, go ahead and patch the small holes with caulk. As for loose shingles, simply secure them into place. It doesn’t hurt to check the roof for loose nails from time to time as a preventive measure too.

  10. Other Spots

    This last item isn’t about a specific spot on the roof. Instead, it deals with other problems that can make you think your roof is leaking even though it actually isn’t. For example, condensation in the attic can leak through. This happens during hot, exceptionally humid weather. The crown of your chimney may develop cracks and begin to crumble. It’s easy to assume the crumbling is occurring because of a leak, but it actually isn’t. Finally, wind-blown rain, which happens during fierce storms, is sometimes an issue. The best way to deal with it is by using ice dam membranes and tar paper.

As you can see, the majority of roof leaks occur in places where intersections are located. Whether it’s at the valley of a roof, alongside its chimney or near one of the vents that poke out of it, a leak isn’t necessarily a sign that your roof needs to be replaced. Working on the roof is dangerous, however, so it’s generally best to let professionals do this work for you. You’ll generally enjoy a warranty of some kind too, which allows you to get a little peace of mind. It’s smart to have them come out to look at your roof on occasion too. Preventative maintenance is the best way to keep roof leaks at bay.

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How the Housing Market Affects Your Retirement Plans Tue, 15 May 2012 19:24:46 +0000 Seniors looking to retire now are facing financial difficulties due to the state of the housing market in America. When the Baby Boomers purchased their houses early on, they bought during a time when the market was in its optimal state. Now, they owe up to hundreds of thousands on a mortgage they will be paying off for the rest of their lives. This puts their retirement funds at stake as well as adding a burden to a time of their life when they should be relaxing and enjoying life.

The Current Problem

Retirees with expensive homes are saddled with long-term mortgages that will have to be paid off by them or their children. mentions Charlotte Morse, age 62, who bought a two-bedroom house in California for about $450,000 in 2005. But the value plummeted by 42%, the estimated worth of the house sunk to about $260,000. However, Charlotte still owes $333,206 on the mortgage. Although she and her husband would like to move to North Carolina for retirement, they both know that dream will never come to fruition as they can’t pay off their mortgage in time, even if they were able to sell the house (which is even more unlikely). Charlotte is not the only unfortunate homeowner in this dilemma.

According to Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 30% of the baby boomers aged 50-62 borrowed against the value of their homes between 2001 and 2004. This accounts for the significant decreases in net worth – as much as 35%. The game switches from exciting retirement plans to “which lives longer, the homeowner or the mortgage?” In this case, many of the boomers will not outlive their mortgages. Because of the hefty house payments, 23% of interviewed baby boomers said they planned to work until they are 70 or older and a depressing 12% did not expect to retire at all.

The only positive aspect of the current housing market situation is that those who manage to sell their homes have much cheaper options for retirement housing in states ravaged by the market decline. The hope however, is that the market would recover long enough for the retirees to get out from under their weighty mortgages and find cheaper residency.

Retirement Solutions

For some elderly homeowners, shared-appreciation is becoming a popular option. Shared-appreciation is an arrangement that involves an exchange of future home value in return for fast cash. Usually the cash represents 10% to 15% of the property’s current value, which gives the seniors some protection against the market relative to the value of their home.

Still others have resigned themselves to working an additional 10-20 years after their expected retirement date. Not only does the income help with pricey monthly payments, but it usually provides the opportunity for refinancing mortgages. Furthermore, delaying the inevitable collection of Social Security means higher payouts later on. Although these options certainly put retirement plans on hold or delay them for a while longer, it can mean the difference in never retiring at all or being stuck in an oppressive situation for years.

Additional Factors

In addition to the difficulties associated with high mortgage rates and decreased home value, seniors face more specific troubles when choosing alternative locations for living out the remainder of their days. The elderly folks can’t just settle down anywhere; many of them will be unable to drive in the near future and will need public transportation or living quarters close to local amenities. Those dependent on Medicaid or Medicare will also have to consider where they can get health care without having to travel long distances. Although many of these seniors envisioned living near their children and grandchildren, sacrifices will have to be made.

The best hope the retirees have is that the market will recover in the next 5-10 years. Although there is no guarantee that the market will indeed recover, or that this change will be nation-wide, the NASDAQ has reported a positive verdict for the month of May indicating that the index has jumped to 29. Considering economists predicting it to reach about 25 or 26, this is an encouraging report. This first step in recovery is partly brought on by the demand for rental properties, young people, and immigrants.

Renting relieves the oversupply of homes currently for sale and this demand provides a strategy option for retiring homeowners who want to get ahead of the game. By renting out their properties, it retains the value of the home over time while still covering mortgage payments. This would allow the seniors to find cheaper residency options, perhaps even renting themselves at a lower monthly cost, and reduce the risk of foreclosing on their homes or throwing out all hopes for retirement.

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