National Preparedness Month

National Preparedness Month
National Preparedness Month (from Ready.Gov)

September is National Preparedness Month!  Being prepared is not just having a “bugout” bag at the ready.  Preparedness is about taking stock to ensure safety for yourself and family in various conditions.  When you hear “preparedness,” you may automatically think of disaster or national emergency.  But it’s also about coping with various local emergencies including: weather, active shooter, hazardous materials, chemical, cybersecurity, and power outages.

FEMA encourages Americans to be prepared to prepare for and respond to all types of emergencies, including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks.  National Preparedness Month is FEMA’s focused outreach effort to educate and empower everyone through local and online events (https://www.ready.gov/september).  National Preparedness Month activities are occurring throughout the country.  In Montgomery County MD, local National Preparedness Month activities are coordinated through the County’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Preparedness in your home starts with maintenance.  Proper home maintenance can not only help mitigate a disaster, but also prevent one as well.  Regular maintenance of the home’s systems is obviously suggested.  However, there are specific emergency related recommendations to help you in your home, which include: testing smoke alarms monthly, replacing smoke alarms every ten years, and knowing how to shut off your home’s utilities.  Additionally, to prevent a chimney fire, you should have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned annually by a qualified and reputable professional.

Information is key to getting through an emergency.  If you have a cell phone, you may receive “Wireless Emergency Alerts” through the Integrated Public Alert Warning System, which includes amber alerts, weather alerts, and notifications from the Emergency Alert System.  However, localities also have there own alert systems.  Here in Montgomery County MD, the Montgomery Alert system can inform you of local government and school information, weather alerts, as well as traffic and infrastructure issues (montgomerycountymd.gov/OEMHS/AlertMontgomery).

National Preparedness Month
FEMA Preparedness Checklist (from ready.gov)

Do you have an emergency plan?  You should have a plan in case an emergency occurs in and out of the home.  Take time to update your home fire evacuation plan, and practice it with a family fire drill.  Choose a family rendezvous point in case an emergency occurs during work/school hours and the home is inaccessible.  Because cell phones are not reliable during emergencies, alternate means of communication should be considered.  Create a family communication plan by including: family contact information, family physician, medical facility information, and an out-of-town point of contact.

Is your homeowner’s insurance adequate?  The aftermath of recent hurricanes and floods have demonstrated that home owners with proper insurance coverage recover from those disasters quicker.  Insurance and emergency experts recommend to regularly review your insurance policy with your agent to ensure that the replacement costs of your home and possessions are covered.  Coverage varies depending on the policy.  Experts recommended to discuss flood and disaster insurance with your insurance agent.

As for the “bugout” bag… It’s recommended that you have an emergency kit in the home and in your car.  A basic kit should be able to get you and your family through 72 hours of an emergency.  However, extreme emergencies have revealed that infrastructure can be disrupted for weeks.  Many experts encourage having an expanded home emergency kit to last at least two weeks in case of a prolonged lack of infrastructure.

Learn more about National Preparedness Month at FEMA’s Ready.gov (ready.gov/September).  Ready.gov provides detailed information about preparedness for yourself, your family and your home, including assembling an emergency kit.  Local preparedness information in Montgomery County MD can be obtained from Montgomery County’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (montgomerycountymd.gov/oemhs).

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/09/05/national-preparedness-month/

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Homestead tax credit – are you getting yours?

Homestead Tax Credit
Homestead (infographic from census.gov)

It’s been eleven years since Maryland forced all qualifying homeowners to reapply for the Homestead Property Tax Credit.  Prior to the change in the application, applying for the Homestead Tax Credit was almost automatic for homeowners who claimed a primary residence.  However, many abused the program to get tax credits on non-principal residences by claiming multiple properties or rental properties as their primary residence.  The 2007 change was implemented to reexamine ownership, so as to stop the abuse of the property tax credit program.

The Homestead Property Tax Credit was created to assist homeowners with significant assessment increases on their principal residences.  The credit limits the amount of taxable assessments.  The state requires each county and municipality to limit taxable assessments to ten percent or less.  Most of Montgomery County is limited to the state cap of ten percent.  The Homestead Credit limits the property tax that the homeowner pays to the allowed limit.

According to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation website (dat.maryland.gov), the Homestead Property Tax Credit is granted if during the previous year: the property was not transferred to new ownership; there was no change in the zoning classification requested by the homeowner resulting in an increase value of the property; a substantial change did not occur in the use of the property; the previous assessment was not clearly erroneous; the dwelling must be the owner’s principal residence and the owner must have lived in it for at least six months of the year (including July 1 of the year for which the credit is applicable), unless the owner was temporarily unable to do so by reason of illness or need of special care.

A homeowner who vacates their home for major improvements, or plans to raze the home to build a new home may qualify for the Credit if the following two conditions are met: (1) the property was the homeowner’s principal residence for at least 3 full tax years immediately preceding the razing or starting the improvements; and (2) the building of the replacement home or the improvements must be completed within the next succeeding tax year after the tax year in which the razing or the substantial improvements were commenced.

Since 2007, many homeowners and home buyers have been unaware of the Homestead Tax Credit.  Additionally, since then, many homeowners who may qualify for the Credit did not reapply.  Many homeowners who purchased homes since then have also not applied for the Credit.  Besides being unaware of their eligibility for the Credit, they may not have understood the Homestead Tax Credit and the application process.  But this will change because of two bills passed by the Maryland General Assembly (HB990 Homestead Property Tax Credit Notification on Acquisition of Property, and HB305/SB158 Homestead Property Tax Credit Program Eligibility Awareness).

Beginning July 1st, the State Department of Assessments and Taxation is required to mail a notice about the Homestead Property Tax Credit to individuals who purchase a home.  And effective October 1st, the State Department of Assessments and Taxation is required to identify homeowners who may be eligible for the Homestead Property Tax Credit Program (but failed to apply) and provide information on applying for the Credit with each assessment notice. For more information about your Homestead Property Tax Credit eligibility status and application process, please visit the State Department of Assessments and Taxation website (dat.maryland.gov).

Originally published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/07/13/homestead-tax-credit-maryland/

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Independence, patriotism and homeownership

independence patriotism home ownership
Old Glory (photo from National Park Service nps.gov)

Let’s come together to celebrate our freedom and independence.  Having innate and inalienable liberties is the foundation of this country.  The concept of independence is abstract and usually expressed as intangible actions, such as the freedom from the tyranny of others.  However, home ownership has become an icon of freedom that is tangible and obtainable.

Last month I wrote about a few of the benefits of owning a home as part of the recognition of National Homeownership Month.  Besides being wealthier, home owners tend to be healthier and happier than their renter counterparts.  The history of owning land has been one of wealth and luxury.  Renting on the other hand has been associated transition, difficult times, and a hard life.  This can be traced back to the middle ages, when serfdom was associated with leasing.

How did owning a home become associated with the American Dream?  Richard Mize revealed the truth about the connection in 2013 (Who first dreamed the American dream of homeownership?; The Oklahoman; June 22, 2013; newsok.com).  Mize cites Eric John Abrahamson’s historical biography “Building Home: Howard F. Ahmanson and the Politics of the American Dream” (University of California Press) as the source of the story.  Abrahamson attributes the idea of home ownership as the American Dream to the restructuring of local savings and loans after the depression of 1896.

Building and loan institutions during the 1800’s certainly did not have the technology nor the interconnectedness our modern banking system has today.  In restructuring the financial system after the 1896 depression, local building and loans were organized to form the U.S. League of Local Building and Loan Associations.  The League’s motto was “The American Home: The Safe-Guard of American Liberties.”  According to Mize, this was promoted as the American Dream.

Abrahamson attributed the League’s first president, Seymour Dexter, with equating the idea of home ownership to liberty.  According to Abrahamson, Dexter felt that owning property was a duty.  Dexter believed Thomas Jefferson’s conviction that independent property-owning farmers would “sustain the independence and virtue of the citizenry and the health of the democracy.”  Dexter viewed the industrialization of America as a “challenge to democracy.”  The industrialized worker was much like the serf of the middle ages who rented a home near their job, and owed allegiance only to their employer (landlord), which was viewed as “politically corrupt.”  And to rebuild America of the 1890s, owning a home became portrayed as patriotic and a “civic virtue.”

In 2011, then president of the National Association of Realtors Ronald L. Phipps wrote (Home ownership matters; magazine.realtor; February 1st, 2011):

Our commitment to home ownership is not about simple self-interest. Rather it is about a larger purpose. Home ownership has been part of the American experience since the very first breath of the Republic.  Today, what we need to do as a nation is connect with our truth and our tradition: Home ownership matters.

It’s not only Realtors who promote home ownership but government as well.  Federal and local government programs exist to encourage home ownership through down payment assistance programs, low interest rate mortgages, and even home renovation programs.

As Seymour Dexter of the U.S. League of Local Building and Loan Associations realized, owning a home is an act of independence and patriotism.  It doesn’t only benefit you personally, but it also benefits your community and the economy.  The idea of independence transcends all ideology and can be exhibited by owning a home.

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Basic home repair

basic home repair
Basic home repair tools (infographic from visual.ly)

I often preach about regular home maintenance.  However, home owners should also have basic home repair skills.  Basic repairs are those items that you can do safely, and usually don’t require a professional.  Basic home repair skills are sometimes useful as an emergency stopgap before the licensed contractor can make it to your home.

Basic home repair requires a few tools.  Keep a toolbox well stocked and know where it is so you can easily find it when necessary.  Besides the standard hammer, Philips and flathead screwdriver, your toolbox will need more items depending on your skill level.  If you’re in doubt about your ability to make a basic home repair, call a licensed contractor (you can do more damage if you don’t know what you’re doing).  As a precaution and in case of emergency, you should know where the emergency shutoffs are in your home for water, electric and gas.

One of the first repair skills that I learned as a home owner is how to “snake a drain.”  Bathroom drains, specifically, get clogged with hair and soap.  Chemical products are a common solution, however you should always follow the directions and read the “cautions and dangers.”  Chemicals don’t always work well, however.  If used improperly, chemical drain products can also damage basins and pipes.  Following the instructions, you can easily clear most clogs with a drain snake.  A small drain snake should be part of your tool box. These are cheap to purchase and readily available at the hardware store.

Have you ever needed to change your door locks quickly?  I have, once when a lock failed (the mechanism broke), and another time when someone stole our keys.  Although most locks can be changed out easily with a screwdriver, specialized locks require a locksmith.  Most locksets are designed as components that easily install. However, you should note that standards change over time, so make sure the lockset you purchase is the same size as the one being replaced.

Patching drywall is one of those repairs that is so basic that you can find “how-to” tutorials everywhere.  Basic drywall patching requires a few basic tools, such as a “spackling tool,” utility knife, sand paper and spackle.  Spackling tiny pinholes is easy. However, a larger hole may require some time for the repair as well as the clean-up.  Damage to large areas of drywall will most likely require sections to be replaced.

Can’t find the leak from your sink or tub?  There’s a good chance it’s coming from water that is seeping through old caulking.  Caulk is used as a sealant in plumbing applications.  It seals the fixtures and perimeter of sinks, tubs and shower stalls, which prevents water from trickling through.  As it ages, caulk shrinks and can become brittle, which allows water penetration and leaking.  A tube of caulk should be in your toolbox in case you need it for an emergency repair.  You don’t need a large caulking gun, as caulk is available in many forms, such as squeezable tubes and even tape.

Plastic sheathing and duct tape are both good to have in your toolbox in case of an emergency.  Duct tape, specifically, has many uses and is widely used as an adhesive and sealant.  These two items are useful as a short-term repair for broken windows and doors.  Plastic sheathing and duct tape can easily cover the affected areas until they are replaced, as well as help maintain cooling or heating in the interim.

 

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Modern homeownership

modern homeownership
Modern Homeownership (infographic from California Association of Realtors car.org)

June is National Homeownership Month.  In recognition of modern homeownership, National Association of Realtors President Elizabeth Mendenhall stated in a June 1st press release that “National Homeownership Month is a time to celebrate and promote the modern American Dream of owning a home.  Homeownership changes lives and enhances futures, and many Americans see it as one of their greatest hopes. These individuals are counting on the nation’s 1.3 million Realtors to champion and protect homeownership and help make it more affordable, attainable and sustainable (nar.realtor).”

The NAR provides a history of celebrating modern homeownership which goes back almost a century (nar.realtor).  The roots of celebrating homeownership go back to the 1920’s when local associations would bring together consumers and brokers during “Real Estate Day” events.  In 1955, the National Association of Realtors created a national “Realtor Week” to promote the value of Realtors when buying a home.  The celebration of modern homeownership began in  1976 when “Realtor Week” was changed to “Private Property Week.”  Then in 1986, the celebration was changed to “American Home Week” to promote owning a home as part of the American Dream.  June became National Homeownership Month through a proclamation by President Bush in 2002, which expanded the American Home Week to include HUD initiatives.  Although 2008 was the last official proclamation of National Homeownership Month, it has been observed annually.  However, last year, President Trump revived the annual proclamation recognizing the significance of homeownership.

Although the idea of homeownership hasn’t changed since the 1920’s, many things have.  For example, buying a home is much easier and affordable today than it was then.  You can now search homes from your couch, rather than driving to individual broker offices.  Additionally, low down payments and thirty-year fixed rate mortgages have made modern homeownership a realty for many.

Of course, some things haven’t changed in a century.  A home is still an asset that maintains relative market value.  Given regular cycles of up and down markets, real estate can appreciate over time.  There are also some tax advantages to owning a home (consult your tax preparer).  Furthermore, owning a home stabilizes communities and encourages civic pride, which positively affect home values.

Additionally, there are many social benefits to homeownership.  Studies demonstrate that home owners tend to be more charitable, have an increased connection to their neighborhood, have an increased general positive life outlook, express an increased self-esteem and higher life satisfaction, and be healthier.  Other studies indicate that children living in owner-occupied homes have higher test scores, higher graduation rates, decreased delinquencies, and an increased participation in organized activities.

homeownership rate
Homeownership Rate (census.gov)

The comparisons of the costs of renting vs. the costs of owning a home hasn’t changed over time.  Of course, the debate takes on a different tone depending on the state of the economy.  During the Great Recession, many believed that owning a home was folly.  Even after the recession, many continued to believe that real estate wasn’t a viable investment, while discounting the other benefits of homeownership.  The homeownership rate bottomed to a modern low of 62.9 percent during the second quarter of 2016 (census.gov).  However, homeownership is back in vogue.  Even with increased home prices and mortgage rates, buying a home today can still be less expensive than renting.

Modern homeownership – your home is a silent witness to your life.

You have a relationship with your home.  When you own a home, your relationship with it is intimate and symbiotic, which contributes to an intangible and intrinsic sense of wholeness.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/06/18/modern-homeownership/

Copyright© Dan Krell
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