Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.
Fixing Up Your Home: Protect Your Housing Investment
Your home is an investment in living as well as in savings. If neglected, it will pay no dividends. If properly maintained and improved, it will pay a high yield in comfort and usefulness for your family and in avoidance of costly repair bills. Home improvements also tend to raise neighborhood standards and, as a result, property values. From an economic standpoint, home improvements mean higher employment, increased markets for materials and home products--and therefore a more flourishing community.
If You Do It Yourself
If you are handy with tools and have the experience, you can save money by doing many jobs yourself. But unless you are skilled in wiring, plumbing, installing heat systems, and cutting through walls, you should rely on professionals for such work.
When you buy the required materials, it pays not to skimp. Good materials are not necessarily the most expensive. What you need are products that look good, are easy to maintain, and last a long time. Buy only from reliable dealers.
If You Use a Contractor
If you plan to use the services of a dealer or contractor, take care to choose one with a reputation for honesty and good workmanship. There are several ways to check on a contractor:
Compare Contractor Offers
Before deciding on a contractor, you may want to get bids from two or three different firms. Make sure that each bid is based on the same specifications and the same grade of materials. If these bids vary widely, find out why.
Many contractors offer package plans that cover the whole transaction. Under such a plan the contractor provides all materials used, takes care of all work involved, and arranges for your loan.
Your contractor can make the loan application for you, but you are the one who must repay the loan, so you should see that the work is done correctly.
Understand What You Sign
The contract that both you and the contractor sign should state clearly the type and extent of improvements to be made and the materials to be used. Before you sign, get the contractor to spell out for you in exact terms:
After the entire job is finished in the manner set forth in your contract, you sign a completion certificate. By signing this paper you certify that you approve the work and materials and you authorize the lender to pay the contractor the money you borrowed.
Beware of Fraud
Most dealers and contractors conscientiously try to give their customers service equivalent to the full value of their money. Unfortunately, home improvement rackets do exist. Here are a few common sense rules to follow:
13 Extra Costs to be Aware of Before Buying a Home
"The last thing you need are unbudgeted financial obligations cropping up hours before you take possession of your new home."
Whether you're looking to buy your first home, or trading up to a larger one, there are many costs - on top of the purchase price - that you must figure into your calculation of affordability. These extra fees, such as taxes and other additional costs, could surprise you with an unwanted financial nightmare on closing day if you're not informed and prepared.
Some of these costs are one-time fixed payments, while others represent an ongoing monthly or yearly commitment. Not all of these costs will apply in every situation, however it's better to know about them ahead of time so you can budget properly.
Remember, buying a home is a major milestone. Whether it's your first, second or tenth home, there are many important details to address, during the process. The last thing you need are unbudgeted financial obligations cropping up hours before you take possession of your new home.
Read through the following checklist to make sure you're budgeting properly for your next move.
1. Appraisal Fee
Your lending institution may request an appraisal of the property which would be your responsibility to pay for. Appraisals can vary in price from approximately $175 -$ 300.
2. Property Taxes
Depending on your down payment, your lending institution may decide to include your property taxes in your monthly mortgage payments. If your property taxes are not added to your monthly payments, your lending institution may require annual proof that your taxes have been paid.
3. Survey Fee
When the home you purchase is a resale (vs. a new home), your lending institution may ask for an updated property survey. The cost for this survey can vary between $700- $1,000.
4. Property Insurance
Home insurance covers the replacement value of your home (structure and contents). Your lending institution will request proof that you are insured as it protects their investment on the loan.
5. Service Charges
Any new utility that services your hook up, such as telephone or cable, may require an installation fee.
6. Legal Fees
Even the simplest of home purchases should have a lawyer involved to review all paperwork. Shop around, as rates vary greatly depending on the complexity of the issues and the experience of the lawyer.
7. Mortgage Loan Insurance Fee
Depending upon the equity in your home, some mortgages require mortgage loan insurance. This type of insurance will cost you between 0.5% -3.5% of the total amount of the mortgage. Usually payments are made monthly in addition to your mortgage and tax payment.
8. Mortgage Brokers Fee
A mortgage broker is entitled to charge you a fee in order to source a lender and organize the financing. However, it pays to shop around because many mortgage brokers will provide their services free to you by having the lending institution absorb the cost.
9. Moving Costs
The cost for a professional mover can cost you in the range of:
10. Maintenance Fees
Condos charge monthly fees for common area maintenance such as grounds keeping and carpet cleaning in hallways. Costs will vary depending on the building.
11. Water Quality and Quantity Certification
If the home you purchased is serviced by a well, you should consider having your water checked by your local experts. Depending upon where you live, determines whether or not a fee is charged, to certify the quantity and quality of the water.
12. Local Improvements
If the town you live in has made local improvements (such as the addition of sewers or sidewalks), this could impact a property's taxes by thousands of dollars.
13. Land Transfer Tax
This tax is applied whenever property changes hands and the amount that is applied can vary.
Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe
It's much more than a physical structure. It's the place where memories are made, where dreams are shared, where lives are lived. And many of your home's contents--the video of your baby's first steps, grandmother's brooch or old family photos, for instance--simply cannot be replaced. That's why it makes good sense to do everything you can to protect your home from fire and theft.
Most fires are preventable. First, let's look at the top causes of home fires.
There are some other simple, common sense precautions you can take to decrease your chances of a home fire:
If your home has one or more fireplaces, special precautions can help to keep home fires burning safely:
If Fire Breaks Out
Smoke detectors greatly increase the likelihood you'll survive a fire. Place at least one on each floor of your home and outside each sleeping area. Install detectors inside bedrooms for added protection. Mount detectors on the ceiling, at least 4 inches away from the wall. Test detectors monthly and replace batteries once a year. To help you remember, plan to install new batteries on an annual event, such as the Fourth of July. Replace smoke detectors after 10 years.
If a fire does break out, take immediate action. Smoke and flames spread rapidly. Get out of the house right away, then call the fire department from a neighbor's house or a cellular phone. Fumes overcome most victims long before flames reach them. Use your safest exit. If you must escape through smoke, get down and crawl low under the smoke, keeping your head about 12-24 inches off the floor.
If you haven't gotten around to conducting a family fire drill, now's the time to do it. And visit your local hardware store or home center to invest in a few fire extinguishers. Extinguishers are classified according to the type of fire they will put out, and you'll find the classification displayed on an extinguisher. A Class ABC extinguisher is multi-purpose and works well against any small, self-contained fire. Keep one in the kitchen, extras in the basement or garage. Contact your fire department to ask about training. Don't attempt to fight a fire unless you know you have the right extinguisher to handle that type of fire, and be sure to keep your back to a safe exit.
Fire Safety Checklist
Take this quick quiz to help you assess your family's fire safety plan:
Every year, burglars hit more than five million households, stealing more than $4 billion worth of property. Determined thieves can break into just about any home, but you can take steps to make entry a lot more difficult for them.
Sounding an Alarm
For greater peace of mind, consider investing in a professionally installed alarm system. Alarm systems come in many shapes and sizes, at prices that range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Many installers also charge monthly monitoring fees, which should be taken into account when you shop for a system. A home alarm system includes some combination of the following components:
Keep in mind that false alarms can be a problem. In addition to annoying the neighbors and taking the police away from real emergencies, some communities now assess fines for excessive false alarms. The National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association reports that nearly 80 percent of false alarms are caused by user error. Steps to prevent false alarms include regular system maintenance and ensuring that whoever has a key to your house also knows the codes to activate and deactivate your system. Local police are a good source of information and recommendations regarding security systems. They work with the security services in your area and can tell you what types of break-ins are most common in your community.
After you've determined which alarm system is best for you, ask your insurance agent, family or friends for referrals. Get written quotes from at least three companies. Before you obtain an alarm system, investigate a security service's reputation and how long it has been in business. Also ask about warranties and what they cover.
Insuring Against Loss
Homeowners or renters insurance provides money to replace possessions after a fire or theft. Remember to keep a good inventory of your property, including serial numbers. A quick way to do this is with snapshots or a camcorder. Store your inventory in a safe-deposit box or other location outside your home, and update it every year.
While you're making an inventory of your valuables, consider engraving them with your name. This makes it easier to trace the goods back to you if they're stolen. Many local police departments will loan etching tools.
Most insurers recommend that you insure your property at replacement cost. This reimburses you for what it would cost to replace items today, instead of paying only for their current, depreciated value. You'll pay a little more in premiums for this extra peace of mind, so shop around for the best policy and the best price. Consider only reputable companies and agents. Get at least three quotes. Some companies provide lower rates if you have more than one type of coverage with them, such as auto and home. Review your insurance coverage annually.