Home owner savvy

Home owner savvy
Home maintenance schedule (from homezada.com)

The playwright Oscar Wilde must have been fond of the idiom “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” because he used it in back to back works; first in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and then a variation in Lady Windermere’s Fan.  Today, corrupted forms of Wilde’s phrase are wrongly attributed or misquoted – but the point is well made.  More psychologist then poet, Wilde seemed to characterize a core consumer behavioral trait of seeking short term gain vs long term value – which applies to home owner savvy!

Consumers in the 19th century were much like consumers today, such that they sought out to get a bargain; often times overlooking the costs from which it comes by.  And what may have been in Wilde’s time a conflation of price and value, is still common today – especially for home owners.  While many home owners pride themselves on their frugality in home maintenance, they don’t realize the consequences of their poor choices when it comes time to sell their home.  Home owner savvy is also knowing about value.

Today’s home owner’s frugality comes honestly as a result of the great recession.  A McKinsey Global Institute consumer sentiment survey from a year and half ago sums it up in the title: America the frugal: US Consumer Sentiment Survey (Martinez, Motiwala, and Sher; mckinsey.com; December 2014).  Martinez, Motiwala, and Sher wrote in their economic analysis that “…Multiple years of austerity have left consumers with altered views about spending. Almost 40 percent say they will probably never go back to their prerecession approach to buying…

While looking to spend less on maintenance and home repairs, home owners often ignore the effects of their thriftiness on the long term maintenance costs of their home.  Trying to spend less often means becoming reactive to maintenance issues, instead of proactive.  Reactive maintenance typically means that the plumbing, electrical, or roof issue the owner is repairing, may have been an ongoing problem that may have also affected other systems of the home.  However, proactive home maintenance is an ongoing process that can prevent minor problems from becoming costly major issues and is home owner savvy.

John Riha invoked Ben Franklin’s “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” when writing about home maintenance and house values (How Much Value Does Regular Maintenance Add to Your Home?; houselogic.com).  He repeats a common theme that regular preventative maintenance doesn’t only save you money down the line, but can add to a home’s sale price.  Riha quotes University of Connecticut and Syracuse University studies that implies the value of a regularly maintained home may increase by 1% a year!

Riha recommends a “proactive maintenance strategy” to help stay on top of necessary repairs and system replacements.  He suggests saving 1% to 3% of a home’s cost for regular maintenance.  To help keep it “interesting,” he suggests repairing and updating one room per year.  If you are unsure where to begin, a home inspection may help identify areas of immediate concern; as well as develop a regular maintenance schedule.  Also, keeping records of ongoing repairs and upgrades will cement in a home buyer’s mind the amount of care you had for your home.

Home owner savvy is not necessarily about being frugal with home maintenance, which is also not about knowing the price of everything; but in reality, diminish the value of their home.  Regular home maintenance can not only keep you comfortable and safe through the year, it may help you sell your home faster and for more!

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Vacation home preparation

vacation home preparation
Vacation home preparation (infographic from Tower Hill Insurance thig.com)

Summer vacation home preparation is much like preparing it for the winter or severe weather.  Much of the plan is conventional wisdom and incorporates penny pinching advice intended to prevent a potential hazard.  The goal is to anticipate and minimize problems while your away by safeguarding the home’s systems and implementing a security plan.

Many electrical items we use are considered to be “zombie” appliances; meaning they use electricity even when not in use.  Unplugging such items as the toaster, Keurig, and other small appliances that won’t be in use while you’re away will conserve energy (and may save you a few pennies).  More so, shut down (and unplug) your computers and printers to not just conserve energy, but to also thwart hackers while your away.

Some people play with their home’s thermostat to save some money.  The thought is that by setting the thermostat temperature much higher than usual, the air conditioner will not run as much (or at all).  However, if you have a basement or cellar, you might consider setting the thermostat temperature to a more reasonable temperature to prevent mold from growing in your dark and humid basement.

Some shut off the water to the house to prevent a water hazard.  However, shutting off valves at faucets, fixtures, or appliances may be a better plan if your home has a sprinkler system.  And to prevent someone taking advantage of your absence and wash a car or two in your driveway, you might also consider shutting off the valves to the exterior hose bibs.

Besides protecting your home’s systems, think about home security too!  First, refrain from posting your plans on social media.  Although you may want to inform your Facebook friends and Twitter followers of your itinerary, broadcasting vacation plans in such a way could also get the attention of a would be criminal looking for their next break-in.

Although storing your valuables in a safe place could minimize loss, consider implementing crime deterrents as well.  Installing motion activated lights on the home’s exterior may deter activity around the home at night; while electronic devices, such as the camera-doorbell, can notify you if there is any activity around the house during the day.

You may also consider implementing some common tactics to make it seem as if you never went on vacation.  Having a few lights on a timer will appear as if someone is turning lights on and off.  Besides having a neighbor pick up the mail and newspaper (many stop their paper and mail while they’re away), have them park in your driveway to make it seem as if someone is coming and going to and from the home.  Additionally, have a neighbor or friend check in on the home regularly to ensure it is secure.  Depending on the length of your vacation, they may drop in a few times, picking up any packages left at the door and adjusting the thermostat as necessary.

A summer vacation home preparation idea if your home is on the market – consider restricting showings to be by appointment only to ensure the house remains secure.  Talk to your agent about how to contact you in case of an emergency, your agent may check in on the home regularly too.  Don’t worry about missing out on a great offer on your home – if you will have email access, your agent can send you any offers and have you sign them electronically.

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The roof overhead

How to know your roof needs to be replaced (http://phoenixroofingteam.com)

People often ask why I frequently talk about home maintenance, and specifically the importance of maintaining the roof. The reason is simple; many issues can develop with an improperly maintained or neglected roof. Besides allowing water to penetrate directly into the inside of your home from a leaky roof, water can also penetrate a basement when the roof and gutters are not properly directing water away from the foundation.

Besides leaving unsightly stains, water entering the home from a leaking roof can seep through walls and ceilings deteriorating drywall and even possibly weakening floor trusses/beams. Water from improperly moved water can create standing water around the home, and enter into the basement. Additionally, any water penetration into the home has the potential to promote mold growth; which not only can affect your health but your home’s structure as well.

It’s obvious that a leaking roof is a problem; and now you know how an unchecked leak can damage your home over time. The good news is that proper maintenance can prevent major leaks and resulting damage. Visually checking the roof (from the ground) regularly can make you aware of general condition of the shingles, flashing, gutters and downspouts. Curling, lifting, broken or missing shingles as well as missing or broken flashing are potential water entryways into your home; and it may be an indication that you should call a licensed roofer to further inspect and repair the roof.

Debris on the roof can not only damage the roofing material, it can also clog or damage the gutters and downspouts. The purpose for gutters and downspouts is to carry water away from the home so as to prevent soil erosion around the home’s basement and foundation; which is a common cause of outside water penetration into the basement. Clogged or damaged gutters and downspouts should also be repaired in a timely manner. Experts recommend to clean and inspect the gutters and downspouts twice a year to ensure proper function.

The two most common roof types are the flat roof and the pitched roof. Flat roofs are typically covered by a membrane, and are thought to be more vulnerable to weather than pitched roofs because of the limitation of gravity’s water draining action. Pitched roofs can be covered in a number of materials. Although shingled roofs are very common, metal roofs are becoming more popular because of its durability. Shingles can be made of many different materials for aesthetic and architectural needs (including solar panel shingles); but in our region the asphalt shingle is most common, and generally has a life expectancy of twenty to fifty years (depending on the quality).

If it’s time to replace the roof, have several roofing contractors provide you with estimates detailing the materials used and estimated labor. A cheaper estimate may not only be the difference in the quality of shingles; but also may not remove the old shingles, leaving them intact under the new roof. Make sure your estimate includes contractor clean up, so you’re not left with piles of old roofing material in your yard.

Always hire a Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC) licensed contractor. The MHIC maintains a Guaranty Fund that compensates homeowners for actual monetary losses due to poor workmanship or failure to perform a home improvement contract; however, The Fund only applies to work done by licensed contractors. The contractor’s license can be checked on the MHIC website (dllr.state.md.us/license/mhic).

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After the blizzard home maintenance

home salesThe warm weather that occurred early in the season probably gave many of us a false sense of security, such that we may have put off the pre-winter inspection. The good news is that it’s not too late; and you should check out your home’s roof, gutters, and the surrounding grounds after the blizzard – even if you’ve already conducted a pre-winter inspection.

The blizzard of 2016 dumped a lot snow, and I’m sure you’ve heard about the collapsed roofs. Even if your roof survived, the stress of the accumulated snow may have caused damage that you won’t see unless you inspect the roofing system (including joists and beams). If your roof is already compromised, the amount of snow or ice it can handle is significantly reduced; and can push it toward failing when you need it the most. Don’t think that your home is immune from such damage; I have experienced home inspections that uncovered a cracked roof truss in an otherwise pristine home.

home maintenance
From the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (disastersafety.org)

According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (disastersafety.org), the average residential roof is designed to hold 20lbs per square foot of snow; beyond that, the roof system becomes “stressed.” Ten to twelve inches of fresh snow is estimated to apply about 5lbs of stress. And given the equation, the Institute says that an average roof in good condition should be able to withstand the stress of up to four feet of fresh snow. “Old” (compacted) snow and ice applies more force than fresh snow, and should be monitored closely in multiple snow events.

Another source of roof and gutter problems during and after a blizzard stem from ice dams. An “ice dam” is formed by the melting and refreezing of snow (or ice). When an ice dam forms on the roof and/or gutters, the expansion of the ice can loosen shingles as well as create gaps in gutters. Damage from ice dams formed during the blizzard has the potential for future damage from heavy spring rains. Loose shingles and gapped gutters can allow water to penetrate the home via ceilings and walls, in addition to allowing roof water runoff directly towards the home’s foundation.

Inspecting your home after a severe weather event can help identify maintenance issues and prevent future headaches; and in some situations, may uncover an urgent safety issue. FEMA’s 2013 Risk Management Series-Snow Load Safety Guide (fema.gov) lists warning signs of an “overstressed” roof to include (but is not limited to): any sagging of ceiling; sagging sprinkler lines or heads; popping, cracking, and creaking noises; sagging roof members; bowing truss members; doors and/or windows that can no longer be opened or closed; cracked or split wood members; cracks in walls; and/or severe roof leaks. If you observe any of these warning signs, FEMA recommends evacuating the home and consulting a structural engineer to inspect and assess the structural integrity of the home.

The amount of snow that a blizzard delivers can saturate the grounds surrounding your home; and if not drained properly, the ground can become supersaturated during spring showers (which can become a flood risk). Once the snow has melted, check the surrounding yard and remove any debris and downed trees that can impede proper drainage (which can also be a hazard during high winds). Make sure downspouts are secure and functional, so as to deposit water away from the home’s foundation.

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The cost of doing nothing – deferred maintenance and home values

HousesIf you want to have one of the faster home sales in the area, you’re probably going to have to wait until you die. According to a 2012 study, “estate sales” sell faster than other homes. Benefield, Rutherford, & Allen’s study compared time on market and price of estate sales to regular sales, and quantified what many ostensibly know: estate sales sell about 3.4% faster and about 3.6% less than other homes (Justin, D. Benefield, C. Rutherford Ronald, and T. Allen Marcus. “The Effects of Estate Sales of Residential Real Estate on Price and Marketing Time.” Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics 45.4 (2012): 965-81).

Although the study is one of many recent studies raising awareness about real estate outcomes in our aging population, one of the main considerations for the rapid time frame and discounted sale price is deferred maintenance; and the issue of postponing home repairs and updates is prevalent among all age groups.

Before Kermit Baker wrote “The Return of Substandard Housing” for the Harvard Joint Center of Housing Studies, it was not quite known how much less home owners spent on home maintenance during and immediately after the Great Recession. However, the 2012 study indicated that “improvement spending” decreased 28% between 2007 and 2011, which essentially “erased” such spending during the housing boom (housingperspectives.blogspot.com).

And as the economy slowly improves and home prices increase, you might expect that home owners will reduce deferred maintenance and once again spend on home improvements. According to Craig Webb (Remodeling Activity Rose Again in 1Q, RRI Shows Nation remains on track to hit record remodeling pace this fall; May 18, 2015; remodeling.hw.net), the Residential Remodeling Index (RRI) increased 1.4% in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the previous quarter, indicating that improvement spending is indeed on the rise (albeit below the 2007 peak).

But what’s the cost of doing nothing? Deferred home maintenance is cumulative, and its effects can be wide ranging. For many, having put off home maintenance and repairs has impacted home sales in recent years, and may continue to be a factor in years to come. Although average home prices have increased, many home owners have found that a lack of home maintenance, repairs and updates over the years is an impediment to selling their homes at higher prices – or even at all.

A mindset exists among many home owners, and even real estate agents, that years of deferred maintenance can be overcome with some updating and minor repairs just before a home sale. And although improvements will certainly make your home more appealing to home buyers, it won’t necessarily increase your home’s value as much as you think (or as much as you’ve been told).

Before undergoing any project, crunch the numbers and determine the value of your repairs/updates, and how that might realistically affect your estimated sale price. Remodeling Magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report (costvsvalue.com) can give you an idea of the return-on-investment (ROI) for improvement projects. Getting back to your expectation of adding value – most improvement projects will only return a fraction of the cost in today’s market.

If you are making improvements, you should consider hiring reputable, licensed contractors who are familiar with the permitting process and building code requirements; because ROI is not always determined by the amount spent on the project, but on the quality of workmanship as well.

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.