July 8, 2011 8:57 pm
By Keith Loria
Most homeowners do a lot of work to get their house ready before placing it on the market. There’s cleaning, packing, de-cluttering and lots of yard work to make the home look its best. The one area that often is forgotten is the garage.
“The garage is the most overlooked aspect when preparing a home,” says Doreen Forbes, a personal moving consultant with a Michigan-based realty and moving company. “But the garage is a valuable addition and major priority for many prospective home buyers.”
A clean and useful garage is a highly marketable add-on for any property. Large garages are especially beneficial, since they can provide shelter for multiple vehicles, additional workspace and possibly even dedicated storage.
Most people can’t properly visualize what a garage can be if all they are seeing are old tools, boxes and junk piled everywhere. Even if you need to use some of the area for storage purposes, you should make sure everything is neat and organized.
“Cleaning, painting and organizing any garage can make it 100% more appealing to any potential buyer, for no significant investment of money and only a few hours labor,” says Ram Bhagwandin, owner of a contracting company in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. “There are few other interior staging solutions that work so well for so little investment of time and effort.”
You can also work with a home stager to help make the garage stand out to prospective buyers. Unlike other areas of the home, garages don’t tend to need costly fixtures or furniture.
“Garage staging is not difficult and does not need to be expensive,” Forbes says. “Keeping it presentable can be the difference between getting a terrific offer or seeing yet another buyer move on to the next home.”
Functionality is often key for many home buyers, and real estate experts say that buyers consistently cite storage, space and usefulness as the main criteria used to rate any garage.
The first thing you should do when preparing a garage is to remove all the junk that has collected over the years and organize everything on clean shelves. Vacuum up any dirt and do away with spider webs and bugs, which often find comfort in the corners of a garage.
“You should also make sure that the lighting works and all the electrical outlets are covered and working,” Bhagwandin says. “You can put industrial flooring in, paint the walls and ceiling and replace any coils or parts of the door that are rusty and not working properly.”
Also, if you have an automatic garage opener, you should make sure that everything is working properly.
There are also companies that specialize in making the garage a more useful part of the home, if you feel you need the assistance. Search online for local companies that help with custom, installed garage organization and storage systems.
So, while a garage may not bring buyers to the house, once it’s seen, it may the catalyst for making them stay.
July 8, 2011 8:57 pm
The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) has published a report “The State of Hispanic Homeownership” that offers an overview of compelling data on the Hispanic home buyer market and why it is poised—due to its population size, high desire and buying clout—to drive first-time home buyer purchases and accelerate the nation’s economic recovery.
According to the report, minorities and immigrants will drive growth in housing demand due to their population size, age and greater propensity to be married with children. In particular, within the next 15 years, they are expected to drive demand for condominiums, smaller starter homes and first trade-up homes. They are also expected to represent a rapidly growing segment of the middle and middle-upper markets for housing.
“The Latin boom has been forecasted for years but we are now seeing the front edge of it and it has the potential to help the nation’s housing system get back on track if we can create a safe credit environment for new buyers to get into the market,” says Carmen Mercado, president of the 18,000-member trade group. “Our report quotes data from a number of sources that highlight the fact that enthusiasm for homeownership in the Hispanic community remains as strong as ever.”
The report, which was penned by former Housing Fellow, Researcher, Author and Watchdog Alejandro Becerra, asserts that a combination of forces make it likely that Hispanics are poised to reinvigorate the ailing housing market including:
• Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the nation and represent a growing portion of the age group 26 to 46 years of age that are involved in most home sales;
• More than other population groups, Hispanics can pick up stakes and move to other parts of the country in search of better jobs and more affordable housing;
• Hispanics continue to attain steady gains in income, education and entrepreneurship and demonstrate a strong work ethic, desire to succeed and purchase power enabling more of them to achieve homeownership;
• The current environment of record low interest rates, government-backed loans and less predatory lending are making sustainable homeownership more affordable.
Past national housing surveys also reveal that Hispanics strongly aspire to become homeowners and are more motivated than the general population to buy a home for both emotional and financial reasons. Strong family values and larger family sizes compel this group by a wide margin to yearn for a place to call home. Fifty-seven percent of Hispanics consider owning a home a symbol of success, compared to only 33% of all Americans.
While Hispanics have been severely impacted by foreclosure, the larger population of potential home buyers were unaffected by the crisis and demonstrate an eagerness to become homeowners. The association’s report maintains that tight credit, higher fees and stricter underwriting requirements continue to remain barriers and that downpayment assistance and savings programs are crucial to enabling buyers to afford homes even at present historic low prices.
While policy makers, industry leaders and consumer groups are in the midst of an intense debate around Qualified Residential Mortgages (QRM) and other key issues the report advocates for housing policy that protects consumers but allows for an industry that can adequately serve and meet the affordable housing needs of low- and moderate-income households.
July 7, 2011 8:57 pm
In a lagging economy, more homeowners are willing and able to take on do-it-yourself projects to prevent paying big bucks to professionals. Many resort to online research when trying to determine whether or not to tackle a project hands on. While this might be a good first step, sometimes it is hard to judge whether or not you should attempt a job. Try to find step-by-step directions and examine the different types of tools necessary. Do you own them? More importantly, do you know how to use them?
If you are unsure about any part of the process, consulting an expert is a great next step. Keep in mind, also, that a botched job can sometimes cost even more than hiring someone in the first place. So, when exactly should you sit back and hire a pro?
When safety is an issue, hire a professional. Any job that includes fiddling with the home’s electrical system is a risky one to take on. The risk of electrocution is extremely high, making it a very dangerous do-it-yourself job to tackle. Not only does it risk physical harm, but incorrect work could become a safety hazard within the home’s structure.
Gas lines should always be avoided. If you aren’t 100% sure how to check for gas leaks, do not attempt messing with gas lines yourself. Mistakes like this could equal severe consequences such as explosions or carbon monoxide poisoning. Heights can be tricky as well. Homeowners should carefully assess jobs that require you to be high up, such as trimming trees or fixing a roof.
A less obvious job you should be careful with is ceiling fan installation. Many like to install these themselves, but aren’t aware of the fact that more than 19,700 people a year are injured by improper mountings and installs, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International, an organization that focuses on electrical safety. If you have any doubts in your fan installs, seek professional help.
Large power tools should also put question marks in your head. Tools such as circular saws, chain saws, nail guns, etc., should be properly handled. You can seriously injure yourself with misuse, putting yourself out of commission for weeks or months at a time, or in the most severe cases, death could occur. For this and all the aforementioned scenarios, professionals can help keep you and your family safe by completing jobs that may be over your skill set. Put away that pride, and hire a pro.
Water situations can also be sticky. If leaks and water damage are left unfixed, they can lead to mold, or worse, pricey and complex repairs. Though mold situations should be alleviated immediately for health purposes (it affects air quality and could make your family quite sick), it’s often a deal breaker for home sales—a huge red flag for buyers. Even jobs like installing a skylight could lead to mold and leaks if not done properly.
Worst case scenario, water could end up leading on the inside, dripping behind walls and causing damage to drywall and wooden beams.
Add up the costs. If the cost of materials and tools runs exceptionally high, hiring an expert might even be the most cost efficient way to get the job done. If you make a mistake in ordering, you could even be subject to restocking fees and nonreturnable special orders. Allowing a professional to take over will prevent you from making these mistakes.
For extra-large projects, you may want to refer to a pro as well. Small jobs, such as changing lighting fixtures, cabinets, retiling or painting, may be completely doable for most do-it-yourself homeowners, but if you are replacing a multitude of windows on your house or remodeling an entire room, you may want to think twice. Heavy lifting and installations can be handled by pros, while touch-up aspects can be done by you later down the road. Sometimes it simply isn’t worth the work and expense involved if the job is too large.
There definitely is an appeal to completing tasks yourself. It feels good to see the results of your own efforts, and it is usually more affordable than hiring help. However, when safety is at hand or the damage risk is extraordinarily high, hiring an outside professional is entirely worth the headache-free renovations.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
July 7, 2011 8:57 pm
Though summer is in full swing, there's still plenty of time for some fun in the sun. It's still a great time to think about some last-minute maintenance that is sure to help you increase the longevity of your home and reduce energy costs.
Here are some tips from Andy Rathke, a former commercial and residential real estate and construction executive who now runs a handyman franchise in Charlotte, NC.
Roof and Attic Ventilation and Insulation:
Make sure attic, soffit and roof vents are running, open and clear of debris to allow proper ventilation. Properly ventilated and insulated attics reduce heating and cooling costs.
Gutters and Downspouts:
Loose, leaking or clogged gutters can cause water damage on soffits or basement leaks. Before this happens inspect, clean and if necessary repair or replace.
Caulking and Grout:
Inspect caulking and grout around tubs, showers, sinks, windows and doors. Replace if deteriorating to protect material behind the walls, avoid water damage and mold growth.
Air Conditioning System Inspection and Filter Change:
Have your air conditioning system checked by a licensed HVAC mechanic semi-annually to ensure top efficiency. Replace filters monthly to improve air quality and reduce energy costs.
If your dryer is taking more than one cycle to dry a load, there's likely lint accumulation in the dryer vent. Annual maintenance prevents dryer fires, keeps dryers running efficiently and saves money on energy bills.
"Consumers who follow these guidelines will increase the longevity of their homes and save money in the long run," says Rathke.
July 7, 2011 8:57 pm
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently awarded more than $31 million in grants to public housing authorities, resident associations and non-profit organizations across the U.S. to help public housing residents connect to services available in the community to find employment to increase their economic independence. The funding will also link the elderly and people with disabilities with supportive services that allow them to maintain independent living and age-in-place.
“We need to take a wider view of the needs of public housing residents beyond just housing if we’re to be true to the goal of promoting self sufficiency,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “The caseworkers that housing authorities can hire or keep on staff help thousands of public housing residents connect to opportunities to obtain jobs or increase their incomes that lead to self-sufficiency and improve quality of life.”
HUD’s Resident Opportunities and Self Sufficiency (ROSS) – Service Coordinators Program helps public housing authorities (PHAs), resident associations or non-profit organizations hire or retain service coordinators who work directly with residents to assess their needs to connect them with education, job training and placement programs and/or computer and financial literacy services available in their community to promote self-sufficiency. For an elderly or disabled resident, the service coordinator arranges supportive services that allow them to maintain their independent lifestyle.
The purpose of HUD’s ROSS - Service Coordinators Program is to encourage local, innovative strategies that link public housing assistance with public and private resources to enable participating families to increase earned income; reduce or eliminate the need for welfare assistance; and make progress toward achieving economic independence and housing self-sufficiency.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.
July 6, 2011 2:57 pm
There's nothing more exciting than pulling out your outdoor furniture for another season on the patio. Depending on the shape of your furniture, the task can be as daunting as it is delightful. Replacing outdoor furniture can be a significant expense, and some TLC will ensure you won't need to invest in new pieces anytime soon.
A sure thing for almost every piece of furniture is a pressure washer on a low setting and some mild soap. If you're working with aluminum, wrought iron or steel, again, mild soap will do or a solution of equal parts vinegar and water. If your metal furniture is not rust-resistant or rust-free, use steel wool or light sandpaper to smooth rough spots. Finish with a non-abrasive paste wax, which will protect the parts from the elements and make next time's cleaning easier.
A light paste wax (or a wood preservative) is also great for protecting wood furniture after cleaning with a soapy sponge or scrub brush, and can also be used on the frames of wicker furniture. Wicker will last longer if kept in the shade, where it won't dry out as quickly. For a fresh look for tired looking wicker, use a couple of coats of outdoor spray paint.
The care of cushions, especially preparation to store them during winter months, is often overlooked. Lydia Graham, an expert on outdoor furniture cleaning and maintenance, recommends dousing cushions with a mixture of 3 gallons of warm water with 1 cup of powdered laundry detergent and 1 cup of liquid chlorine bleach and letting them sit for 30 minutes to eliminate any mildew inside. For stains, use a synthetic sponge for synthetic cushions and a scrub brush on coated polyester. Afterwards, rinse thoroughly with water and place them in the sun for several days to dry before storing, unwrapped, in a dry area. When working with vinyl, however, be sure to not use a hard brush or bleach, which seems counter-intuitive, but either of these will damage the material. Stick with the simple mild soap and water technique.
Lay umbrellas open and upside-down and, as with other furniture, use a pressure washer on low with mild soap, scrubbing where needed. Don't forget to check for rusty and/or loose hardware on your umbrellas (and for deteriorating or loose bolts on furniture for that matter). A spray lubricant on the joints of a wire-frame umbrella and other hardware does wonders, and a little paste wax on wooden framed umbrellas will restore and protect them for another season of sunshine.
With the proper care, you can get many years' enjoyment out of your outdoor furniture.
July 6, 2011 2:57 pm
Each year between the months of April and August, home buying and selling activity increases, and so does the risk of identity theft as personally identifiable information (PII) is shuffled around from one home to the next. During this busy time, buyers and renters become preoccupied with financing their new homes, closing and opening new banking and utility accounts, and packing and moving—all stressful tasks that can distract them and cause them to simply overlook protecting sensitive documents and PII.
"Identity thieves are pervasive and creative in finding opportunities to steal information, and something as simple as forgetting to forward mail can put a consumer in jeopardy of identity theft," says Steve Schwartz, executive vice president of Consumer Services for Intersections, Inc. "The details of moving can be stressful enough without worrying about becoming a victim of this invasive crime."
To help further educate consumers, here is a list of simple steps a homeowner can take throughout the moving process to help protect their identity and minimize their exposure to theft.
Top Safety Steps for Homeowners on the Move
1. Submit a Change of Address Form. Submit an official Change of Address Form through your local post office, and once the request has been filed, keep an eye out for a confirmation from the Postal Service. You'll want to use this to verify that your new information has been correctly updated. You can expect your mail to arrive at your new address within 7 to 10 business days after filing.
2. Shred sensitive documents. All important documents and paperwork that will not be coming with you should be shredded to prevent thieves from finding any information in your trash. A small investment in a shredder is well worth it when you consider the headache it could be preventing.
3. Monitor financial statements. Watch over your bank and credit card statements for suspicious activity. Consider enrolling in a service that not only helps you monitor activity related to your credit, but also helps protect your computer, public records, and even mobile devices.
4. Use reputable moving companies. Many Americans use a moving service to help pack and move their boxes, but mover fraud is becoming more commonplace in the U.S. Take the time to read reviews, research the company and ask trusted friends, family or real estate agents for recommendations. Always check the mover's reputation with the Better Business Bureau and make sure the mover is registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and has a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number before signing any agreements or obtaining an estimate.
5. Keep documents with you. Transfer all important physical documents that will be making the move, such as wills, stock certificates, bonds, etc., to a safe and secure place such as a locked box or an online secure vault. Keep the physical documents with you during the move and do not leave any secure receptacles for movers or others to transport.
6. Enroll in a monitoring service. Monitoring services send subscribers alerts to any address changes, whether it is an authorized change or an unlawful redirection of the user's mail.
7. Lock down your computer. Devote time and resources before your move to make sure all computers in your home are hack-proof, packed and out of sight before movers arrive.
8. Supervise the move. Make sure you are present for the entire duration of the move. Your presence could deter potential theft from occurring and you can rest assured that your personal belongings are being taken care of properly.
9. Check your credit report. Take a look at your credit report for several months after you've moved. Any suspicious activity on the report may be a sign that your information has been compromised and local authorities and banks should be contacted.
10. Verify mail is being delivered. After the move, verify that you are receiving all mail from the list of senders you identified and contacted beforehand.
For more information, visit www.intersections.com.
July 6, 2011 2:57 pm
The National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) quarterly Multifamily Production Index (MPI) recorded its third consecutive quarterly increase in the first three months of 2011 indicating continuing improvement in the multifamily housing market.
The MPI, which tracks multifamily housing industry sentiment about the strength of the market on a scale of 0 to 100, increased from 40.8 in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 41.7 in the first quarter of 2011.
The index provides a composite measure of three key elements of the multifamily housing market: construction of low-rent units, construction of market-rate-rent units, and construction of “for sale” units. The index and all of its components are scaled so that any number over 50 indicates that more respondents report conditions are improving than report conditions are getting worse.
“Multifamily continues to be one of the brighter spots in housing,” says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Not only is the overall index on the rise, the market-rate rental component has improved dramatically. In the first quarter, the market-rate rental component was 60.5, the highest level in more than five years.”
Although the increase is cause for optimism, the multifamily market still faces significant challenges, Crowe says. “There is considerable pent-up demand, but the ongoing crisis in funding for new construction means that developers are limited in their ability to meet that demand.”
The Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI), which measures the multifamily housing industry’s perception of vacancies, increased slightly from 33.3 in the fourth quarter of last year to 35.0 in the first quarter of 2011. With the MVI, lower numbers indicate fewer vacancies.
“Both the Multifamily Production Index and the Multifamily Vacancy Index have emerged as leading indicators that provide information about the likely movement of Census Bureau statistics of multifamily starts and vacancy rates about one to three quarters in advance,” Crowe says. “Even though we saw a slight increase in the vacancy index in the first quarter, the long-term trend is downward. Given the demographics of demand, we expect that trend to continue.”
“We are seeing positive movement in the multifamily market,” says Stillman Knight, chairman of NAHB’s Multifamily Council Board of Trustees. “However, production is still low in the context of anticipated demand, and rents are increasing as a result. Rents are likely to continue to rise unless financing for new construction becomes more readily available.”
For more information, visit www.nahb.org/mmi.
July 5, 2011 8:57 pm
At Colorado State University, forecasters believe the number of named storms will reach 16 this hurricane season, and they predict there’s a 72% chance that the entire United States coastline will be affected by at least one major hurricane landfall in 2011. The Weather Research Center in Houston has forecast at least 10 named storms in 2011 with six of them projected to intensify into hurricanes. And, they’re predicting that coastal areas in west Florida, Louisiana and Alabama have a 90% chance that they’ll be in the line.
“Homeowners all along the East Coast and throughout the Gulf of Mexico should prepare for potentially severe weather this year,” says Jill F. Hasling, president of the Weather Research Center. “Now is the time to evaluate your home’s exterior and determine how well it is prepared to withstand hurricane-force winds, torrential rain and flying debris.”
Hasling speaks from experience. In 2008, Hurricane Ike reached into the Houston area doing significant damage to structures near the Weather Research Center. “We strongly advise people to make it a priority to completely evaluate the four most vulnerable areas of the home—windows, entry doors, the roof and the garage door. If any of these are compromised, the wind and rain that enters the home can cause extensive damage.”
According to home improvement expert Tom Kraeutler, selecting the right door for a home is also a critical decision. “Hurricane-force weather conditions can be extreme for hundreds of miles inland, so it’s important that homeowners seriously consider upgrading with impact-resistant building products,” says Kraeutler, host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Money Pit.
A home’s roof is another vulnerable area during high winds and driving rain. Roofs should be examined yearly to determine if there are missing shingles, curling or splitting shingles, lifting shingles or loss of granules. Both straight line winds and pressurized winds can cause different damage—from uplifting the shingles off the roof to pushing intense wind-driven rain and flying debris onto the roof.
“Once air pressure moves through a hole in a roof and into the home during a hurricane, it can literally blow out the walls and windows of the house,” says Kraeutler. “It’s vital for homeowners in potential hurricane areas to have well-installed, solid roofs overhead to protect their homes and prized possessions.”
“Homeowners should also make sure they have proper bracing, such as galvanized metal hurricane straps, to connect the roof to the walls of the home,” says Kraeutler. “This can help prevent uplift during hurricane-force winds. For a second step, consider impact-resistant polymer roofing tiles that have been formulated and tested to withstand hurricane strength winds and severe impact. That’s a winning combination for a roof.”
Kraeutler stresses that homeowners should always follow direction of local authorities regarding evacuations and emergency procedures during severe weather. “More than likely in extreme weather situations, you’ll have to evacuate,” says Kraeutler. “But when you invest in impact-resistant building products that are always ‘on guard,’ you can leave knowing that your family’s home and cherished possessions are secure. That can bring incredible peace-of-mind during a highly stressful time.”
July 5, 2011 8:57 pm
Although drought can be brutal on lawns, trees and shrubs, John Crossmock, director of technical training and support for TruGreen, encourages homeowners not to give up on their outdoor living rooms.
"We're encouraging homeowners to be aware of local water restrictions, focus on effective irrigation, and pay close attention to the changing health of their lawns and landscapes," says Crossmock.
Signs of typical wear and tear on yards this time of year are amplified when lawns are stressed. Brown spots on lawns may not always be from lack of water or nutrients, but instead from insects that can mimic drought damage on select grass types. Homeowners need to have a clear understanding of the source of the yard problem to effectively resolve.
To help homeowners address drought impact on their lawns, here are several simple tips to help maintain the health of lawns and landscapes during the hot summer months.
Irrigation Efficiency: Ensure sprinkler heads and related water lines are working properly and that the irrigation system provides sufficient coverage. Low water pressure will affect coverage.
Water Restrictions Awareness: Become familiar with any local watering restrictions related to yards. Light watering too often is not as effective as a slow, thorough watering (about one inch) once or twice a week, optimally in the early morning. To ensure uniform coverage, consider placing a few empty one-inch deep food cans in the sprinkler pattern to measure the amount of water collected after each watering cycle. Adjust watering times and cycles if needed to provide for one inch of water.
Pest Problems: Inspect drought-sensitive plants and grasses. Although mature trees and many southern grasses will tolerate drought, others may not. Undiagnosed infestation of lawn insects and build-up of mites and insects on shrubs can also enhance the risk of plants' susceptibility to further decline from drought conditions. Ask a lawn care professional to assist in diagnosing plants for drought versus insect damage.
Feed: Lawns, trees and shrubs require proper nutrition to encourage healthy growth and the ability to recover from drought damage. If necessary, use a trained professional company that offers customized solutions to lawn and landscape problems based on the specific needs of the homeowner's region.
Mowing Schedule: Mow grass as needed and not as a scheduled weekly chore. Avoid mowing in the heat of day or if the lawn is extremely dry to allow the lawn to bounce back during the cooler temperatures of night. To help promote moisture retention and to prevent shock, disease and insects, do not cut more than one-third of the grass leaf blade and mow at the highest recommended height for your grass type.
Mulch: Return grass clippings back to the soil for added lawn nutrients. Apply three inches of organic mulch to base of shrubs and trees to help conserve soil moisture and to reduce weed pressure, but be mindful not to cover the trunk flare of the tree base.
With the proper care, your lawn and shrubbery can avoid becoming casualties of drought-like conditions and instead healthily flourish for years to come.
For more information, visit www.trugreen.com/.