Summer home safeguards

summer home safeguards
Summer home safeguards (infographic from crime prevention pamphlet montgomerycountymd.gov/POL)

Did you know that the AAA estimates that there will be about 100 million Americans who will take a family vacation this year (aaa.com)?  If you’re one of those millions planning a trip this summer, you’re likely stressing over your plans.  Some of that stress is certainly vacation planning, but some may be about leaving your home vacant for several or more days.  Besides planning your vacation, you should also plan to “summerize” your home by taking some summer home safeguards.

Just like winterizing a vacant home before winter, summerizing is safeguarding your home while your away on vacation.  And just like winterizing a home, summerizing is implementing a preventative plan to secure your home and possibly save a few dollars. Here are a few common knowledge ideas for summer home safeguards.

To save a few dollars, many homeowners adjust the HVAC thermostat while vacationing.  Some even turn off the HVAC system.  However, if you have a basement or cellar, consider adjusting the thermostat to a reasonable temperature (and/or use a dehumidifier) to prevent mold growth in a dark and potentially humid area of the home.

If your home will be vacant for an extended period, consider unplugging “zombie” appliances.  Zombie appliances are appliances that consume electricity even when they are not in use.  Many small appliances and internet connected appliances (such as your TV and other entertainment devices) are included in this category. 

One of the biggest concerns while away is the potential of returning to a waterlogged home.  A faulty valve or supply line can leak at any time.  If you’re away, you obviously can’t immediately respond to this scenario.  Although some home owners turn off the water at the main valve, this can interfere with a sprinkler system.  Most shut off specific valves to appliances and fixtures.  Some vacationing home owners also shut off outside water hose bibs to prevent others from using water at their expense.

Securing your home can deter burglars and pests.  Although it’s tempting to brag to your friends about your vacation, refrain from posting about your plans on social media.  Store your valuables in a safe, inconspicuous place.  If you don’t have a security system, consider installing a camera and lighting system that can alert you of unexpected activity.  An exterior camera and lighting system can be a major deterrent.  However, interior cameras can also alert you of a determined intruder so you can take appropriate action. 

To deter mice and other rodents from ransacking your home while you’re away, ensure that the home’s doors and windows are shut and secure.  Also, make sure the exterior dryer vent cover is closed.  Find and seal any holes where rodents can gain access your home. 

You may also want to employ some common some summer home safeguards strategies that make it appear as if you never went on vacation.  Connect a few lights to a timer to give the impression that someone is turning on lights at night.  Ask your neighbor or a friend to park in your driveway (or reserved space).  Although stopping the paper and mail while on vacation may seem clever, some home owners have a friend or neighbor pick up the daily paper and mail. 

One of the most common aspects of some summer home safeguards is having a trusted neighbor and/or friend occasionally check on the home.  They can ensure the home is secure, pick up any packages left at the door, and deal with any necessary maintenance (such as adjusting the thermostat).  Spreading this responsibility among multiple “guardians” can make it less of a burden and increase the frequency of “check-ins.”

Many local police departments offer a home security survey. Consider going through the survey to help with your planning.

Original located at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/06/15/summer-home-safeguards/

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2019

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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.

After you move in

after you move in
After you move in

Moving into your new home is exciting.  You just went through an intensive process that tested your character.  You feel a sense of relief it’s over.  But the work is not over, it’s just beginning.  What you do after you move into your new home can help maintain its value. It also can save you time, money, and keep your home functioning.

Of course, there are the standard items that needs immediate attention after you move in.  Changing the locks is the number one item on the new homeowner list for obvious reasons.  Deep cleaning the home is a task that is also performed, especially if the previous owner had pets.  Keep all warranty information, including a home warranty policy (if you have one), in a safe place so you can find it if you need it.  Make sure you know where the water shut off valve and the main electrical breaker is located in case of an emergency.  Change of address forms from the USPS need to be completed to ensure you receive your mail.  A visit to the DMV is necessary to change the address on your driver’s license. 

But what else can you do after you move in to make life easier in your new home?  Revisit your home inspection report.  If the home seller made repairs, make sure you keep those invoices (your agent should have asked for those receipts prior to closing).  If there is a problem with any of the repairs, you can call the associated contractor to reinspect the repair.  However, it’s likely that the seller didn’t repair everything in the inspection, or maybe they didn’t repair anything.  Review the report to see which items require your immediate attention, or may require attention within the year.  Make sure you install any missing safety items (such as smoke and carbon dioxide detectors).  Taking care of the urgent items immediately will likely prevent expensive repairs down the road.  Keep the list of items likely needing attention in the future, so you can check them when you conduct regular maintenance.

Next on the list , after you move in, is to create a maintenance schedule.  For most new home owners, maintenance seems to be a dirty word.  After all, you just moved in and the last thing you want to focus on is “upkeep.”  But putting off repairs can make the likelihood of damage to your home and repair expense increase over time.  Research has even verified that deferred maintenance lowers your home’s value.  Your home inspection report also should have information about maintaining systems such as (but not limited to): HVAC, electric, plumbing, roof, and exterior.

If you haven’t yet created a maintenance budget, do it now.  Some of the systems may need replacing sooner than others.  Check your home inspection report for the systems’ age and average life expectancy.  Start saving to replace systems (HVAC, roof, etc.) so it’s not as much of a financial burden when the time comes to replace them.

Life happens and so does the occasional surprise.  It is not uncommon for maintenance and other “surprises” to occur your first year in the home.  Although it may seem correct to blame the home inspector, they are not perfect.  They are limited to what they can see.  “Surprises” often occur in a system or area that was not observable during the time of the inspection.  It is my experience that home inspectors make themselves available within the first year of ownership to answer questions relating to their report.  Some will even reinspect the item in question. 

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/04/09/after-you-move-in/

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2019.

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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.

Climate change and your housing budget

climate change
Climate change and your housing budget (infographic from energystar.gov)

Saving the planet and acting environmentally ethical is good.  But there is a truth that human behavior is unpredictable.  Even in the face of the speculative disastrous effects of climate change, consumer demand for housing in effected areas is resilient.  Rapti Gupta pointed this out when raising the alarm in his RealtyToday article (The Looming Global Warming Catastrophe and its Effect on Real Estate; realtytoday.com; November 11, 2013).

If consumers won’t embrace climate change, government will. Making your home “green” seems to be going to another level these days.  Home owners have responded by voluntarily upgrading and conserving to help according to their belief. And although it’s not the first time, there is a nationwide push for local climate change legislation that is likely to impact your housing budget.

It’s been ten years, but you probably forgot about the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.  The bill, also referred to as the “cap and trade” bill, not only focused on commercial properties but residential properties as well.  The bill would have established National Energy Efficiency Building Codes for commercial and residential buildings.  Additionally, it intended to retrofit all existing buildings to meet new standards.  Enforcement would have been through regular government inspections.

Climate change, CCA’s and your energy bill

Since the bill (and others like it) was not enacted, local communities have picked up the ball to make their communities “greener” through Community Choice Aggregation programs.  Although CCA’s have been implemented in some states since the 1990’s, the idea is gaining steam in others.  Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich recently testified in support of CCA’s and the legislation (HB0730/SB0660) that is making its way through the Maryland General Assembly.

What is Community Choice Aggregation?  According to the EPA (epa.gov), “Community choice aggregation (CCA), also known as municipal aggregation, are programs that allow local governments to procure power on behalf of their residents, businesses, and municipal accounts from an alternative supplier while still receiving transmission and distribution service from their existing utility provider. CCAs are an attractive option for communities that want more local control over their electricity sources, more green power than is offered by the default utility, and/or lower electricity prices. By aggregating demand, communities gain leverage to negotiate better rates with competitive suppliers and choose greener power sources.

However, Severin Borenstein’s blog post for the Energy Institute at Haas (haas.berkeley.edu) points out the pros and cons of CCA’s (Is “Community Choice” Electric Supply a Solution or a Problem?).  Borenstein points out the local utility still does all the work of supplying and metering customers, and bills customers for their services. 

However, the CCA is contracting to purchase electricity on your behalf (supposedly from renewable sources), promising a better price.  But Borenstein points out that policy makers learned that “electricity is not always like other markets,” pricing and fees can be complicated.  He also pointed out that because of regulatory standards, the CCA buying of energy contracts from renewable sources doesn’t mean that the grid’s “total” green energy increases or that it will decrease greenhouse gases.  He states, “green energy claims deserve close scrutiny.

Borenstein concludes by saying that “Regulated investor-owned utilities are flawed organizations that operate under a distorted set of incentives. But local governments are also flawed organizations subject to their own set of distortions, a fact that is often less appreciated by the local government leaders who are promoting the CCA.  If your community is considering a CCA, you need to think about which organizational structure is most likely to have the sophistication and the incentives to serve you best.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/03/04/climate-change-housing-budget/

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2019.

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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.

Occam’s razor home selling

Occam's razor and selling a home
Staging is one of the four basics of home selling. (infographic from nar.realtor)

Many home owners are preparing to sell their homes this year.  And in doing so, home sellers are looking for new and exciting ways to sell their homes fast and for top dollar.  But the reality is that selling a home is not rocket science.  There really isn’t a secret trick or approach to selling a home.  Rather, it’s more like magic, where properly performed fundamental tasks can set the stage for a satisfying experience. If you don’t know how Occam’s razor (or what it is) can help you get the most from your home sale, pay close attention.

Unfortunately, it’s a human trait seek a complex solution to a simple question.  In other words, applying Occam’s razer to your home sale can save you time and allow you to get out of your own way.  Occam’s razer is a tool that is often used to figure out solutions and devise scientific theories.  It has become popularized as the “keep it simple stupid” method.  However, Susan Borowski’s history and explanation of Occam’s razor, written for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, gives it teeth (The Origin and Popular Use of Occam’s Razor; aaas.org; June 12, 2012).  Borowski states, “Occam’s razor doesn’t necessarily go with the simplest theory, whether it’s right or wrong; it is not an example of simplicity for simplicity’s sake. It merely tries to cut through the clutter to find the best theory based on the best scientific principles and knowledge at the time.”

In other words, focus on the tried and true fundamentals of selling a home.  Anything above and beyond may not necessarily help to sell the home faster or for more money, but could help make the process more enjoyable.  That in mind, let’s consider these four basic concepts:

First, consider the condition of your home.  Do you have deferred maintenance issues?  Does your home need a makeover?  Homes that get top dollar are “turnkey.”  Many home buyers are willing to compete and pay more for recently upgraded and renovated homes.  Selling a home with deferred maintenance or lacking recent updates can not only turn off many home buyers, but can encourage low-ball offers.  A pre-listing home inspection can help you identify maintenance issues.  Also, consider consulting with a design professional to help you understand which updates (if any) are necessary to help your home sale.

Next, work on the home’s presentation to give it a clean and spacious feel.  Decluttering is one of those tasks that can be overwhelming, but it’s importance cannot be overstated.  Decluttering will force you to decide which items to keep in the home.  Additionally, staging your home can help balance space, furniture and décor.  This can help home buyers envision living in the home.

Deciding on a list price is often a conundrum.  Although enticing, don’t be seduced by the agent who tells you the highest sales price without understanding their rationale.  The housing market can turn on a dime.  If your home isn’t priced correctly, it can languish on the market.  There are many aspects that go into deciding a price, so work with a respected seasoned agent to go through the market details and scenarios. 

Finally, when the home is ready to list, how is it to be marketed?  Today’s MLS listing syndication takes advantage of the fact that most home buyers actively search homes on the internet. Don’t rely on gimmicks that promise activity on your listing.  A complete marketing plan will take into account the factors we discussed here, and apply strategies to attract motivated home buyers.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/01/12/occams-razor-home-selling/

By Dan Krell. Copyright © 2019.

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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.

Municipal infraction and your home

municipal infraction
Municipal infractions result from neglect repairs and maintenance (infographic from census.gov)

A common home buyer preference is to buy a home that is not within the confines of a HOA or condo association.  Maybe the home buyer’s impression is that HOAs and condo associations bully home owners.  But the truth is that HOA and condo association rules are created for a number of reasons, which include health and safety.  If you don’t comply with the community rules, they can compel you do so.  But even if you don’t live in an association managed community, it’s your civic duty to comply with county and/or municipal ordinances to maintain your home. Disregard for civic responsibility may result in a municipal infraction.

Believe it or not, regardless of where your home is located, your home has to satisfy health and safety standards that are enforced by your municipality (e.g., Montgomery County, City of Rockville, City of Gaithersburg, etc.).  Deferred home maintenance can surely affect the value of your home.  However, if it is found that your home doesn’t meet code standards, you can receive a notice of a municipal infractions.

Municipal infractions are also another name for code enforcement.  In his manual Municipal Infractions and Code Enforcement, Practice and Procedure for Municipalities in the State of Maryland, Frank M. Johnson stated the need for having such procedures by saying:

“Most persons will follow the law voluntarily, but the reality is that when a law isn’t enforced, it becomes less effective for everyone. Even those who voluntarily comply are less likely to take a law seriously when it’s known the law won’t be enforced. In addition, steps to enforce the law often involve the most serious violations which, if not corrected, can lead to results which have a significant community and neighborhood impact.”

Mr. Johnson’s manual was originally written for the City of Gaithersburg, but was also adopted by the Maryland Municipal League (mdmunicipal.org), which is a statewide non-profit association that promotes municipal administration.  What started as a local handbook describing the entire process of municipal infractions (from complaint to enforcement), became a statewide template in code enforcement.

Municipal infraction and your home

If you ever received a notice of municipal infraction, or just wondered how the process works, check put the manual.  The manual describes why you’re receiving the citation, and how it can be enforced. It also describes the appeal process, as well as what can happen if you don’t comply.

Typically, the municipal infraction process begins by a complaint that triggers an investigation.  The investigator will inspect and witness any code violations.  If there are violations, the investigator will notify you and attempt to resolve the issue(s).  Most home owners resolve the issue(s) with the first notice.  However, if you don’t comply (or attempt to comply) with the first notice, you will likely be fined.  The court can also order you to correct the issue(s), which is called an “abatement order.”  If you don’t comply with the abatement order, your municipality can go on your property (and inside the home if necessary) to fix the issue(s) and send you the bill!  If you don’t pay, a lien will be placed against your home, while collection actions are implemented.

What Caused You to Get Cited For a Municipal Infraction?

Montgomery County’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs (montgomerycountymd.gov/DHCA) also publishes valuable information about the process.  The Housing Code Enforcement Handbook, is written for the public to understand housing code enforcement in the county.  The DHCA states that seasonal issues are the most common code violations reported, such as overgrown grass and weeds, dead trees and snow-covered walkways.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/11/09/municipal-infraction-home

By Dan Krell. Copyright © 2018.

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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.