Is Your Home Ready for the Rains?

by Dan Krell
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With spring’s arrival come blooming cherry blossoms and flowers, nesting birds, and the light yellow haze of pollen on your car. Additionally, springtime means there will be sustained rains and water saturated lawns. Is your home ready for the springtime showers? With regular maintenance and scheduled inspections, your home’s roof, gutters and downspouts, sump pump and windows will withstand the springtime showers (as well as year round rains and snow) and prevent your home from becoming a water hazard.

Obviously, a leaking roof can be problematic. However, with proper maintenance, you can prevent any major leaks; regular checks can determine the condition of the roof system including the shingles and flashing. Roof systems and materials vary from home to home and wear may vary. However, curling, lifting, broken and missing shingles as well as failing flashing should be repaired as soon as possible to prevent ice dams and water penetration through sheaving and membranes.

A common cause of outside water penetration into a basement is due to clogged gutters and downspouts. When gutters and downspouts become blocked, water is not efficiently carried away from the home. Instead the water pools around the home’s foundation. Debris on the roof can not only damage the roofing material, it will clog the gutters and downspouts and should be removed immediately. You should have the gutters cleaned and inspected at least twice a year to ensure proper function.

Water may also enter your home because of a failed sump pump. The purpose of the sump pump is to remove excess water from the home that has collected in the sump pit from excess drainage around the foundation. A sump pump has a typical life span of ten years, and because parts often need servicing it should be tested regularly. If your sump pump is connected to the home’s electric system, you might consider having a battery backup system to ensure the pump is operative when you need it the most.

Windows are often overlooked when there is a leaking problem. However, water can enter around windows and seep down the walls of your home. This can happen if windows are sealed or installed improperly. A visual inspection of the window exterior can determine if the caulking or sealant around the windows is cracked or missing and in need of repair.

If you find that water has infiltrated your home, call a professional immediately- waiting can make the damage more extensive. If it is safe to do so, you may want to remove your valuables from the water. You should refrain from using any electrical equipment in and around the water; don’t use your household vacuum to clear excess water, nor should you use electrical appliances while standing in the water.

Once the source of the water penetration has been repaired, your focus will be on water removal and cleanup. To ensure proper cleanup, you might consider one of the many professional cleanup and restoration services; proper cleanup can reduce incidences of mold and mildew that arise from water damage.

Regular inspection and maintenance can prevent water damage to your home. To prevent injury, it is recommended you hire a professional for inspections and repairs.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of April 28, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.

Todays Luxury Home Trends are Tomorrow’s Home Standards

by Dan Krell
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What comes to mind when you think of a luxury home? When asked, many people first think a luxury home is a very large and expensive home. However, a luxury home does not have to be the largest or the most expensive home in the area; in fact a luxury home could be a townhome or condominium.

Although price alone does not signify a luxury home, luxury homes are more expensive than the average home. Regardless of price, luxury home ownership is on the rise. Consider the Joint Center for Housing Studies (Harvard University) report from 2004 indicating that homes costing over one million dollars are the fastest growing market segment in the country such that the United States Census Bureau had to change the top census category of home value from “$500,000 or more” in 1990 census to “$1,000,000 or more” in the 2000 census.

So what makes a home a “luxury home?” It is mostly about the home owner’s lifestyle, which is typically a combination of: personal expression, house amenities, construction quality, and physical location. A typical luxury home buyer will pay the price to create their perfect home and to make it express their lifestyle.

Lifestyles and homes have changed a lot over the years; consider that in the United States, the average home in the 1950’s was about 980 square feet while today the average home is over 2,400 square feet! As lifestyles change, trends in luxury home building will change to fit the luxury home buyers’ personality and routine. Most luxury home buyers are willing to pay more for a home in the perfect location with customized amenities.

Luxury homes usually have many state of the art amenities including the latest in appliances and recreation facilities. State of the art kitchens are usually standard in a luxury home. Current trends in high end kitchens include prep-kitchens inside the main kitchen so as to keep the main kitchen clean, as well as high tech appliances connected to the internet so you can either order groceries from your fridge or cook a turkey while at work (via phone commands). Additional luxury amenities include walk in closets (closet sizes rival the average bedroom) that are well appointed with center islands and dressing areas. Other amenities depend on the owner’s personal interests and hobbies. You might find these indoor facilities in a luxury home: theatre, basketball court, bowling alley, or swimming pool.

Luxury home construction is distinct from other construction because of the customization and materials used (such as exotic woods, imported marble, and custom fixtures). Luxury homes are now being designed for room flexibility and continuous room flow. The price of a luxury home is higher than the average home because of these design and construction features.

Do you like what you see in some of today’s “dream homes?” Today’s luxury home trends tend to become tomorrow’s norm. For example, the washer/dryer, dishwasher, air conditioning, microwave oven, granite counters, and stainless steel appliances (the list goes on) were once considered to be a luxury- but are now the norm in many homes: So, who knows? Maybe your next home will have that indoor basketball court!

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of April 21, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.

Vacant homes represent more than empty dreams

by Dan Krell
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One result of the recent mortgage crisis has been an increased foreclosure rate. Many home owners who could no longer afford their mortgage payments found their homes foreclosed on by their lenders. Many of these homes tend to be vacated many months prior to the lender taking possession, while others are vacated after the lender takes possession.

Vacant homes are cropping up everywhere. There are even boarded up homes in some communities as well. (Homes are boarded up if they have been vandalized or condemned in order to keep trespassers out). The United States Census (Census.gov) has estimated that there was an average of 2.7% homes vacant in 2007 for the Washington, DC region (including northern Virginia and Suburban Maryland); this is a 51% increase from 2005. There was an increase in vacant rental properties as well, 10.4% in 2007 up almost 15% from vacancy rates in 2005. As foreclosure rates continue to increase, the number of vacant homes will also increase.

Activity in and around a foreclosed home is significantly reduced because it is unoccupied and the lengthy time needed to bring the home to market. Because of this, lenders take extraordinary measures to secure vacant properties; some typical securing procedures include winterizing the home (turning off water supply and draining all pipes), changing deadbolt locks, and sometimes installing remote close circuit video. However, even a secured home can conceal and harbor many things, including vermin, homeless/squatters, and gang activity.

If a home is vacant for a short time, the risk of infestation or trespassing is reduced due to the short period of inactivity in and around the home. However, since the average time on market for homes for sale has increased significantly over the last year, the home will be vacant longer increasing the risk of vandalism, damage and trespassing.

Current County code can condemn a home if it has been vacant for a year and it has been cited for five or more maintenance code violations. If the home is condemned, the owner has thirty days to comply with the inspectors orders or the home can be demolished (at the owner’s expense). To avoid demolition, these homes can be referred to one of the many rehabilitation programs that were designed to maintain our neighborhoods. Unfortunately, foreclosures are usually owned and managed by large corporations where no one takes a personal interest in the daily happenings of the foreclosed homes.

Vacant homes are presently a growing problem nationwide; however, pockets of vacant (and abandoned properties) have plagued large cities for years. In the constant struggle to reduce the number of vacant homes and revitalize affected neighborhoods, the United States Conference of Mayors (USMayors.org) task force on vacant and abandoned properties published “Combating Problems of Vacant and Abandoned Properties” (2006). The report highlighted housing initiatives from twenty-seven cities to reduce abandoned and vacant homes. Many of the plans emphasized programs to take possession of vacant homes, programs to register vacant homes, as well as many programs to assist home buyers to purchase vacant homes.

In order to address this growing problem, additional local housing initiatives (such as incentives for owner occupants to purchase corporate and vacant homes) should be considered.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of April 14, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.

Pre-sale Home Inspection

by Dan Krell
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Home inspections are commonplace among real estate transactions these days. Many people who bought without a home inspection during the recent sellers’ market will testify to the value of having one performed to determine the condition of the home. Generally, home inspectors vary by training and experience; however as of January 1, 2008, all home inspectors operating in Maryland are required to be licensed.

Now that the market has shifted to a buyers’ market, you might see advertisements by some real estate agents and home inspectors stating that a pre-listing home inspection will sell your home faster, eliminate home inspection negotiations, and reduce your liability.

If you do have a home inspection conducted prior to your sale, don’t expect the home buyer to forgo having a home inspection performed. Unless the home buyer has experience in home construction, most home buyers will want an opportunity to have a home inspection. Even if you are selling the home “as-is,” home buyers can still require (as part of a contract) to have an inspection performed to determine if there are serious issues to address in the home.

The pre-listing home inspection could possibly eliminate additional negotiation brought on by a buyer’s home inspection. But since home inspectors vary in experience, you can count on variances between your inspection and theirs. Additionally, there is always the chance that your home can sustain damage after the initial inspection, especially since listing periods tend to be longer these days. If there is additional damage, you can count on the home buyer’s inspector to point it out as well as the buyer asking you to fix it.

Does the pre-listing home inspection eliminate your requirement for disclosure of latent defects? No. Even if you had a pre-listing home inspection, the fact remains that you are still required to disclose any known latent defects (latent defects are defined as defects that a purchaser would not reasonably be expected to ascertain or observe by a careful visual inspection of the real property and pose a health or safety threat).

Don’t get me wrong, having a pre-listing home inspection performed should be on everyone’s pre-listing checklist. Actually, pre-listing home inspections have been performed by savvy home sellers for many years. The purpose of the pre-listing home inspection is to determine the home’s condition and reveal if there are serious issues to remedy. To improve your home’s appearance, you should consider making the recommended repairs. However if you cannot make the repairs, you can price the home based on the home inspector’s repair recommendations. Additionally, the home inspector’s critical eye may serve to provide feedback on enhancing the home’s appeal to potential home buyers.

Should you have a pre-listing home inspection? As a home seller, you should absolutely consider having a pre-listing home inspection performed. Although the pre-listing home inspection on its own doesn’t necessarily bring in home buyers or make the sale, it is a tool that acts as a guide to make your home more appealing to home buyers and to assist in facilitating a faster sale. For more information about a pre-listing home inspection, you can visit the America Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI.org) or the National Society of Home Inspectors (NSHI.us).

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of April 7, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.

A lot’s at stake, proceed with caution

by Dan Krell © 2008
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Separating? Divorcing? Separation and divorce can be one of the most challenging experiences anyone can endure. Even when you decide to work things out amicably, things can become contentious and difficult; disagreements seem to be at the heart of divorce, right? If you haven’t consulted an attorney yet, you should do so to get advice and assistance on the splitting of assets (including your home) and the tax liabilities you may incur.

Splitting couples often do things in haste out of anger, fear, and sometimes (mental) exhaustion. Getting to the nitty-gritty, there’s a lot at stake; making impulsive and rushed decisions can be reckless- especially when it comes to the disposition of the marital home. Before you make a move, explore the options available to you to protect your assets and your financial investment in your home.

Divorce agreements vary with the requirement to sell the marital home. Some separating couples agree to sell immediately, while others agree to sell after a number of years (allowing one spouse to stay in the home). Depending on when your agreement requires the sale of your home, you could owe additional taxes. The tax laws are complex (consult your accountant), however filing jointly would allow you to claim up to $500,000 in real estate capital gains without being taxed, while filing individually only allows you to claim up to $250,000 real estate capital gains without being taxed.

When it comes time to sell your home, finding a Realtor who has experience with divorcing couples can make the sale go smooth. Before hiring a Realtor, interviewing several can give you an idea of their communication skills and experience. It is wise to hire a Realtor who is neutral and can work with you and your spouse; hiring a Realtor because they are a relative or friend often creates or adds to the spousal discord, which deteriorates communication at a critical time.

Misunderstandings and bad feelings between you and your spouse can undermine the home sale by interrupting communication between all parties. To facilitate a smooth sale, everyone (you, your spouse and your Realtor) should agree on the communication methods to inform each about aspects of the sale, as well as the process to show the home and the preferred method of contract negotiations. By laying the groundwork prior to listing the home, everyone knows what to expect and how the sale process will be executed.

Pricing the home realistically can eliminate a lengthy time on the market. It is good practice for your Realtor to present an analysis of the local and neighborhood market to you and your spouse so as to agree in pricing the home.

Your Realtor should always be discreet about your domestic affairs during the sale. Domestic situations, such as divorce, are not material facts about the home and do not need to be communicated to home buyers. Keeping discretion about your domestic affairs can limit bargain hunters’ “low ball” offers.

Planning and counsel can lessen the overall impact of separation and divorce by exploring your options. If you have a home and are divorcing, consult with your attorney and accountant before agreeing to listing and selling the home.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of March 31, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.