Gunning Daily News
June 1, 2012 12:30 pm
(ARA) - Buyers are still clamoring for real estate deals in this turbulent market. Foreclosures and short sales offer some of the best bargains, but also have a higher risk level. Still, more than four in five adults think foreclosures and short sales can be good deals, according to a recent American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) survey.
Some analysts say the rebound has begun and home prices may rise by the end of 2012. This means now may be buyers' last chance to take advantage of affordable properties and low interest rates. If you want to score a bargain before the housing market recovers, you'll need to follow a few rules to invest with certainty.
Make a wise investment by adhering to these five rules while shopping distressed properties:
Rule 1: Position yourself for success
Before starting your search, get preapproved for a mortgage so when a good deal presents itself, you're positioned to submit a bid right away to be the first offer on the bank's desk. Work with an experienced real estate agent who can help guide you through the daunting sea of foreclosures and short sales. Bidding can be complicated and time-consuming, especially when working with a home sale needing bank approval. A good agent will know how to navigate through the paperwork and red tape.
Rule 2: Do your research
A real estate agent can help you with research, but it's wise to do some on your own. Are there any undisclosed liens on the property? Is the seller behind on his property taxes? What permit records does the city have on file? This information will be critical during decision-making. Work with your agent to ensure the contract requires any delinquent taxes, liens or assessments will be paid prior to you taking ownership of the property.
Rule 3: Always get a home inspection
Eighty-four percent of adults surveyed by ASHI said they would be more likely to purchase a distressed property after a home inspection has determined its condition.
A home inspection gives you the confidence to move forward with your purchase because you'll have as much knowledge as possible about the condition of the property. An inspector will visually examine the condition of the home's roof, attic and insulation, foundation, basement and structural components, as well as interior plumbing and electrical systems. Be sure to find an ASHI-Certified Inspector (ACI) to ensure your inspector is experienced, as many states have minimal licensing requirements. To find a local ACI, use ASHI's "Find an Inspector" tool on www.ASHI.org.
Rule 4: Budget for repairs
When looking at short sales and foreclosures, remember price is only one aspect to consider. A home will almost always require some type of repair. After receiving your inspection report, you can estimate costs associated with necessary repairs, maintenance or energy-efficient improvements.
Rule 5: Assess the neighborhood
Location should be a top consideration when purchasing real estate, and in a tough housing market, it's even more important. A home has limited worth if it's located in a less desirable neighborhood. High foreclosure rates can turn a once-desirable neighborhood into one many might likely avoid. These locations are likely to see a slower recovery than more populated or favorable areas less affected by the economy. Make location as important as price when making a purchase decision.
Protect yourself with knowledge and expert advice to make a confident, smart decision about your largest investment.
June 1, 2012 12:30 pm
An essential aspect of landscape maintenance is insect control. Problem insects can affect the vigor of plants and landscapes, either through disease, insect feeding or other destructive activities. Insects can also invade the interior of a home in search of food, water and shelter, becoming a general nuisance. With the recent mild winter across the U.S., insect activity is occurring even earlier this year. This means there is a greater chance that homes and landscapes will be infested by pests this summer.
Here are some tips to make your home and landscape less of a target for infestation:
Choose plants wisely: Many insect and disease issues can be prevented by selecting plants that are less prone to insect problems. For example, native plants are less inviting to pests when planted where sun and soil are right for them.
Combat insects with essential nutrients: One of the best defenses from problem pests is a strong, actively growing, well-maintained plant. Proper fertilization is essential to maintaining landscape beauty and plant development, helping sustain optimum plant growth and resistance to insects, diseases and environmental stresses. When fertilized properly, plants are supplied with the essential nutrients (i.e. nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) they need for strength and growth.
Know the symptoms: Often, the evaluation of plant symptoms can provide an effective indication of the insect type. There are three common types of problem insects:
• Sucking insects and mites cause damage by removing a plant's life-sustaining sap from plant tissues. Symptoms include: the wilting of plant tissues; the stunting, curling or distortion of new plant growth; a rust coloration of the upper leaf surface; or a sticky substance followed by a black sooty appearance on the upper leaf surface.
• Chewing insects consume plant tissue, such as leaves, stems and roots, or burrow into plant tissue. Symptoms include: silvering of leaf tissues; complete removal of leaf tissues; and holes in and around plant leaves, stems, branches and trunks.
• Boring insects target the trunks, stems, bark, buds and roots of woody ornamental shrubs and trees. These insects damage plants through their tunneling activities. Symptoms include: holes in the bark; tunneling activity in leaf tissue; dead terminal growth on a plant; or the complete removal of strips of bark.
Create a line of defense: Use a bait formulation to create a barrier around your home. The bait kills a range of ant species outside so they are unable to infest interior areas. Foraging (worker) ants bring the granules back to their mound, resulting in the entire colony, including the queen, being destroyed.
Clean up debris: Along with applying bait, you should also remove loose debris from around the home and at the foundation of plants. This includes fallen leaves or dropped fruit. Pests often use these types of debris for nesting and feeding.
Protect beneficial species: Within every landscape and garden, there are pest predators that are beneficial to the health of plants -- either by feeding on problem pests or by helping with soil aeration and drainage. Examples include: earthworms, spiders, ladybugs and praying mantises. Attract beneficial insects to your landscape with plants that provide nectar, pollen and other food sources.
June 1, 2012 12:30 pm
The way you light your home is changing, starting with how you shop for light bulbs. In addition to new choices in technology -- state of the art LEDs or CFLs, for example -- you have a variety of options in terms of brightness, as well as how long you want the bulb to last. In addition, you have the option of spending more money up front on an energy efficient bulb that can save you money in the long-run.
The good news is you don't have to be an Edison to find the right bulb. Use these tips and resources to pick the perfect bulb for your home:
Calculate Your Savings
Before you hit the stores, do your homework. Determine what lighting attributes are important to you, whether it's long life, instant-on, dimming capabilities, bulb shape or luminosity. Different bulb technologies offer different benefits. To boil down how much switching to a more efficient bulb means for you, look for resources like the savings calculator GE offers at www.gelighting.com/lighttransforms. It shows consumers how much they'll save with a simple switch from incandescent bulbs to GE's Energy-Efficient Soft White bulbs, which operate much like incandescent bulbs but are up to 28 percent more efficient.
Check the Facts
The back of every new light bulb package now includes a "Lighting Facts" label that is similar in form to the nutrition label on the back of food boxes. The Lighting Facts label provides information about lumens (brightness), energy cost, life expectancy, light appearance (warm versus cool light), wattage and mercury content. Mandated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the label is meant to standardize how companies in the lighting industry convey light bulb features, helping you to quickly make comparisons between bulbs and bulb technologies.
Look for Lumens, Not Watts
In addition to the Lighting Facts label, some light bulb packaging is placing more emphasis from classifications by watts instead classifications by lumens. While you may have equated watts with brightness every time you made a bulb purchase, in true lighting terms, this gauge isn't accurate. Watts are merely the measure of electrical energy used to light a bulb. A lumen is a measure of the bulb's brightness. Simply put, the higher the lumen number, the brighter the bulb. So, if you are looking for a brighter light, look for a higher lumen number on the box. The same isn't necessarily true for watts. In fact, a 13 watt CFL may be brighter than a 60 watt incandescent bulb.
Examine New Packaging
Along with the Lighting Facts label, some manufacturers are going one step further in helping consumers decipher differences in bulbs by changing their packaging. For example, GE Lighting has implemented a color-coding system to help you better understand the light that will be emitted from each bulb. Color selections are modeled after the natural cycle of daylight, from sunrise to sunset. For example, yellow boxes represent bulbs with strong, vibrant light ideal for home cooking, cleaning and grooming, while purple boxes represent subtle and reassuring light for use at night.
June 1, 2012 12:30 pm
Historic structures. Buildings of historical or architectural significance, perhaps landmarks, that are designated by federal, state, or local historical commissions.
June 1, 2012 12:30 pm
A: Opinions vary about which professional to call first. Some say the architect comes first because “you have to design it before you can build it.” The architect, who is trained to resolve problems creatively, can help define the project in ways that provide meaningful guidance for the design. The architect can also do site studies, help secure planning and zoning approvals, and perform a variety of other pre-design tasks. On the other hand, a contractor will be the one you interact with on a regular basis and the person who will likely be in your home every day, possibly for an extended period depending on the scope of your work. Many contractors have in-house design services, or design/build firms, and can possibly offer better price and integration between design and implementation. Others may have several architects with whom they work directly, which could also provide a smooth integration between design and implementation.
May 31, 2012 5:14 pm
If you are planning to sell your home this year, I want to bring you up to speed on an important responsibility—to present your home in as positive and honest light as possible.
Joy Watts, a real estate professional in Kalamazoo, Mich., recently blogged about 'nondisclosure' and why consumers need to be fully educated about this important piece of terminology, which is also referred to as “Silent Fraud.”
According to Watts, if you are a seller, you will be asked by your real estate professional to fill out a Sellers Disclosure form. This form is used to give potential buyers additional information regarding your home and property they would not know by looking on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) or the printout given to them by their buyer’s agent.
As the seller, you need to fill out the Sellers Disclosure Form to the best of your ability. You may not know the answers to all of the questions but Watts advises you to do the best you can.
You do not want to commit “Nondisclosure” or “Silent Fraud” on this form or at any time throughout the process of selling your home. The following are ways you can commit fraud:
• Your home has a defect and you purposely do not disclose the defect
• You disclose the defect but you understate the severity of it when questioned
• You become aware of a defect during the selling process and you do not correct a statement made previously to a buyer or you do not make a change to the Sellers Disclosure Form
You may think that if you state that the property is sold in “as is condition” this eliminates the risk of fraud. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. Watts says even if you are selling your property in “as is condition” and you are aware of defects you still must disclose those defects even if you have no intention of correcting those defects.
May 31, 2012 5:14 pm
Memorial Day kicked off the summer driving season. While gas prices have dropped, you can still do plenty to make the fuel in your tank last longer.
Recent public opinion polls show that many Americans find gas prices burdensome, and some experts believe that worries about jobs and the economy could keep would-be vacationers at home this summer. “So even with gas prices below their historic highs of a few years ago, it’s a good time to employ fuel-efficiency tips to save at the pump,” says Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan.
The Alliance calculated that the average U.S. household will spend $3,475 to fuel its vehicles this year. As demonstrated by the Alliance’s fuel-efficiency videos, proper vehicle maintenance and smart driving can keep more money in your pocket.
Tips for Vehicle Maintenance
Fixing a car that’s out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent, saving about $82 a year. Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent, or more than $1,300!
Inflate Your Tires
Keeping tires properly inflated can improve mileage by up to 3.3 percent, or about $61 a year (under-inflated tires can lower mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure in all four tires). Proper inflation also improves tire longevity – and driver and passenger safety.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) cautions not to rely on the pressure setting on the tire’s sidewall, but to consult your owner’s manual or look for a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb or in the glove box.
Get the Right Oil
Use the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil or risk lowering your gas mileage by 1-2 percent, wasting up to $40 annually. DOE also advises looking for the phrase “Energy Conserving” on the American Petroleum Institute performance symbol to ensure that the oil contains friction-reducing additives.
Unpack & Unload
Get the junk out of the trunk! Remove unnecessary items in your vehicle’s trunk – an extra 100 pounds could reduce your mileage by up to 2 percent, wasting $40 a year.
Also nix a loaded roof rack, which can cut fuel economy by 5 percent, or $98 per year.
Tips for Smart Driving
Keep a Steady Pace
Avoid aggressive driving. Speeding, rapid acceleration and rapid braking can lower gas mileage by at highway speeds, wasting about $980/year, and 5% around town, wasting about $98/year.
Mileage usually decreases rapidly above 60 miles per hour. DOE says each five mph over 60 is like adding as much as 31 cents per gallon to the price of gas.
Idling gets 0 miles per gallon, wasting a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour depending on engine size and air conditioner use. Yet it takes only a few seconds’ worth of fuel to restart your engine.
Use Cruise Control & Overdrive Gear
Using cruise control on the highway helps you maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, save gas and money.
And don’t forget to engage the overdrive gear to reduce engine speed, which saves gas and reduces engine wear.
Combining errands into one trip saves not only time but money, too. Taking several short trips from a cold start each time can use twice as much fuel as one multipurpose trip covering the same distance with a warm engine.
Beat the Traffic
When possible, drive and/or commute during off-peak hours to avoid stop-and-go traffic. You’ll reduce stress as well as gas costs!
Tips for Smart Commuting
If you have a choice of vehicles, use the more fuel-efficient one whenever possible.
Consider alternatives to driving solo. Take advantage of carpools and ride-share programs to cut your weekly fuel costs by as much as half – and save wear on your car. Many urban areas allow vehicles with multiple passengers to use High Occupancy Vehicle, or HOV, lanes which are typically less congested, further improving your fuel economy. Carpooling twice a week with two others can save each of you more than $150/year.
Consider telecommuting from home, if your employer permits it. Doing that just twice a week can save you more than $450/year.
Take the Train
Look into public transit options, too. The American Public Transportation Association has links to information about public transportation in each state.
Source: Alliance to Save Energy
May 31, 2012 5:14 pm
(ARA) - The kitchen and bathroom are at the top of most home remodeling project lists. But homeowners intent on remodeling should also consider investing in the exterior of their homes - maybe even start there.
That's the advice of Sarah Susanka, one of the nation's leading voices for redefining the American home, and author of the Not So Big House series, a collection of nine books focusing on home design, architecture and remodeling.
The reason for investing in the exterior is simple. The exterior should set the tone for your home's interior look and feel. Also, first impressions really do count to the long-term value of a house, especially when it comes time to sell it.
"I firmly believe that the experience we have in living in our homes can have a profound impact on the way we look at life," Susanka says. "That experience begins the moment we walk, bike or drive up to it, and extends through the transitions we make as we move between the landscape, the exterior and the interior of the home."
The feeling of satisfaction that comes from making your house look good on the outside is experienced at many levels - from the colors and textures of your home to the quality of the materials used to build or remodel it, to the benefits of those materials in the long term, such as the character they lend, or the ease of maintenance they offer. The good news is that if you haven't remodeled your house in a long time, there are a number of new, sustainable products that are helping homeowners create exteriors that are both beautiful and green, such as APEX siding and Integrity windows, both made with pultruded fiberglass, a tough, low-maintenance, sustainable material offering a rich selection of colors.
"A Not So Big House is not only built better rather than bigger," adds Susanka. "It is also designed to be a good custodian of the planet's resources. It's built to last. Finding green products that also make it easy for homeowners to maintain the home is a big step toward true sustainability. If a house isn't both beautiful and practical, no matter how green the materials used, it won't live up to its sustainability goals. People only look after what they love, and beauty is a big part of that picture."
If you're thinking about remodeling in the near future, here are several more ideas to make the most of your remodeling budget:
Create a master plan. Many homeowners cannot afford to do a complete remodeling. Most do it in chunks. Before you lift a hammer, hire an architect to create a master plan for your home, which will guide your remodeling efforts for years to come.
Connecting inside with outside. The interior and exterior of your home need to work together. They need to be integrated and harmonize with one another as you move from the surrounding landscape to the interior, or as you look out from inside your home to the garden beyond. To enhance this connection, think about the first impression you want to give a visitor. Do you want it to communicate comfort? Connectedness to the outdoors? Creativity? Or tradition? All these can be accomplished with thoughtful detailing of the home's exterior, as well as landscaping.
Small changes; huge impact. Small changes to the exterior, such as adding another color to the exterior palette, adding texture such as stone, brick or lap siding, or framing the windows with wider trim boards, can have a huge impact on the look of your home, and make it feel both more expressive and more inviting.
Choose sustainable products. It's important not only to the environment, but to the overall maintenance and longevity of your home. Consider remodeling your house with some of the new, high quality sustainable products that are entering the remodeling marketplace, such as APEX Siding, Susanka's current favorite find, which is made from pultruded fiberglass, derived from sand.
Reduce maintenance and future repairs. Another key to remodeling is to use materials and building methods that are resistant to wear, tear and the elements (rain, sunlight), which reduce the likelihood of needing to make expensive repairs in the future, as well as reducing the amount of time spent on maintenance. Knowing that your home is well protected from the elements is an important part of the overall satisfaction with your home.
Mix it up. Many people are afraid to use more than one color on the exterior of their home. That's why so many houses appear dull and lifeless. Consider using two colors of siding and a third color for your trim boards to add personality and vitality to the exterior. Products like Apex fiberglass siding and trim, and Integrity windows, for example, are available in a palette of rich and attractive colors. Also, consider adding a trim band, or belt line, below main level windows of your home, and using a contrasting color of siding below that band to help ground the house and connect it in with the surrounding landscape.
Invest in quality over quantity. Even with a limited budget, try to invest in high-quality products that will look good for the long haul, and will stand the tests of time, rather than buying lower-quality products that may offer the short term benefit of getting a greater share of your remodeling projects done, but which end up looking dilapidated and unattractive in short order. You'll feel better about the integrity of your home by focusing a significant part of your budget on the bones and outer clothing of your home - the roof, siding, windows, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems.
May 31, 2012 5:14 pm
Highest and best use. Use of land that is most logical and productive. Refers to the greatest income it can bring the owner, as well as factors such aesthetics and benefits to the surrounding community.
May 31, 2012 5:14 pm
A: They vary depending on the size and scope of your job. General contractors are companies or individuals who contract with you to manage all aspects of the project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, obtaining building permits, and supplying materials and labor equipment needed to do the project. Specialty contractors, on the other hand, are mainly concerned with installing products, such as cabinets and fixtures. Architects design homes, additions, and major renovations. And design/build contractors basically offer one-stop service, providing design and construction services and overseeing a project from start to finish.