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.
Home Improvement Tips to Increase the Value of Your Home
Buying a home may be a dream, but the initial purchase is only the introduction to that dream. There's always something about your house that could be a little better, a little closer to perfect. Now, with a little planning, you can bring your home closer to your dream of perfection.
Many home improvement projects begin with someone in the household saying, "Wouldn't it be nice ...?" What follows may be a wish for a remodeled kitchen or a room addition with space to accommodate every family member's needs. However, reality usually intrudes upon this daydream: There's only so much money and so much space. The trick is turning your dreams into reality.
Also This Month...
Don't Pay Another Cent in Rent To Your Landlord
It doesn't matter how long you've been
renting, or how insurmountable your
financial situation may seem. The truth is, there are some little known facts
that can help you get over the hump, and transfer your status from renter to
homeowner. With this information, you will begin to see how you really can.
Protecting Your Home from Fire and Carbon Monoxide
Thousands of people die from fire every year. Most residential fire deaths
occur because of inhalation of toxic gas, rather than contact with the flames.
The tragedy is that many of these deaths could be prevented by taking a few
Home Improvement Tips to Increase the Value of Your Home
Buying a home may be a dream, but the initial purchase is only
the introduction to that dream. There's always something about your house that could
be a little better, a little closer to perfect. Now, with a little planning, you
can bring your home closer to your dream of perfection.
Reasoning Your Redo
Many home improvement projects begin with someone in the household
saying, "Wouldn't it be nice ...?" What follows may be a wish for a remodelled kitchen
or a room addition with space to accommodate every family member's needs. However,
reality usually intrudes upon this daydream: There's only so much money and so much
space. The trick is turning your dreams into reality. Start by evaluating your needs.
Most homeowners consider home improvements for one of these reasons.
- You need to update the out-of-date. If your kitchen still
sports appliances and decor from decades past, now may be the time to make it current.
- You need to replace fixtures or appliances. Sometimes a
home improvement project grows out of an immediate need to replace broken or inefficient
fixtures. If the sink, tub or toilet has to be replaced, many people take the opportunity
to refurbish the entire bathroom.
- You're selling your home. You want to be sure you'll get
top dollar from the sale of your home, and that may be the rallying cry for some
home improvement projects.
- You're staying put. You thought about moving, but now you
realize that improving your present home is a better option.
- Your family has grown and you need more space.
Improving to Move or Improving to Stay
You need to evaluate your plans carefully if you're improving
your home to put it on the market. Cutting corners could hurt rather than help your
prospects, but you don't want to go overboard either. Potential buyers may not want
to pay for the extras you have included, such as a hot tub or pool. It's best to
keep changes simple.
Also keep in mind that people viewing your house may not share
your tastes and therefore won't necessarily appreciate the time and effort you put
into finding just the right shade of green paint for the walls.
Improving to sell is easier if you mentally put yourself on
the other side of the proverbial fence: What is important to the home buyer? Here's
a list of remodeling projects that buyers are likely to find valuable:
- Adding or remodeling a bath
- Improving the kitchen
- Adding a new room
- Adding a bedroom
- Adding or enclosing a garage
If you're remodeling in order to stay in your home, you still
need to avoid over improving it. You'll probably sell someday, and even if your
house is the best on the block, you may have a hard time convincing buyers to pay
extra for the things you found so important. Keep the value of other homes in the
area in mind whenever you consider improvements. Your home's value should be no
more than 20% above the average. That means a $10,000 kitchen improvement project
might be a better idea than a $10,000 hot tub, especially if no other homes in your
area have hot tubs.
Unfortunately, some home improvement projects get started because
something is broken. A leaky plumbing fixture may be the first step to a major bath
remodeling. After all, if the tub has to be replaced, why not do the whole room?
While that's certainly one reason to remodel, you'll generally
want to avoid basing your home improvement projects on immediate need. Proper maintenance
will help to minimize problems. Go over every part of your home at least once a
year. Check out the roof, plumbing, electrical wiring, etc. As soon as you notice
a problem, fix it. Early attention to repairs will help you avoid a larger expense
later on. Remember maintenance does not add to the value of your home. Repairs,
generally, are not improvements but necessities.
Let's face it, home projects can be expensive. You may be tempted
to tackle them yourself as a way to save money. For small projects, that may be
a smart move. You don't have to wait for someone else to fit your house into their
schedule, and you can take pride in doing the work yourself. Unless you're particularly
handy, however, large home improvement projects are better left to the pros. If
you're remodeling the kitchen, ask yourself if you can handle the plumbing, electrical
and carpentry work. And don't forget that you need to finish it all quickly, because
in the meantime you'll be without a kitchen and eating out can be costly. Keep in
mind, do-it-yourself jobs generally take more time and you're responsible for obtaining
the necessary permits and inspections.
Hiring people who have experience can save you money and time,
too. For example, these professionals can help you get a custom look using stock
products, and that can be a significant savings. Getting something done right--the
first time--will give you value that lasts for years.
Word-of-mouth is a good way to start looking for home improvement
specialists. Check with friends, business associates and neighbors for recommendations.
Always ask for at least three references - and check them out. Check, too, with
your local chapter of the Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce. You can
find the number in the community services section of your telephone book. Make sure
everyone is in agreement about design, schedule and budget. Get the details down
in writing in a signed contract. You'd also be wise to check on professional certifications
and licenses, where required, and insist that any contractors you hire are fully
insured and bonded. Contact your town or city Building Department for information.
In particular, make sure contractors carry workers' compensation insurance so that
if any workers are injured on the job, you won't be held liable. Ask for a copy
of their insurance certificates. Also make sure that you or the contractor secure
any necessary permits before beginning the work. Contact your local Planning and
Zoning Commission for information.
Here's a quick overview of some of the pros you may work with
in remodeling your home:
Architect: These professionals design homes or additions
from the foundation to the roof. If you're planning structural changes--adding or
taking out walls, for example--or anticipate a complex design, you'll probably want
an architect. You may pay an hourly fee or a flat fee. Be sure to get an estimate
of the total cost: It can take 80 hours or more to draw up plans for a major remodeling
Contractor: This person oversees the nuts-and-bolts
aspects of your home improvement project, such as hiring and supervising workers,
getting permits, making sure inspections are done as needed and providing insurance
for work crews. You may wish to get proposals from one or more reputable contractors,
based on specific details of your project. Be sure each contractor bids on exactly
the same plan for comparison purposes. Once you've chosen a contractor, make sure
your contract specifies that you will pay in several stages. It's customary to pay
one third when the contract is signed so that the contractor can buy supplies. The
number and timing of other payments depends on the size of the job, but do not make
final payment until all work is successfully completed, inspected and approved.
Interior Designers: These specialists offer advice on
furnishings, wall coverings, colors, styles and more. They can help save you time
(by narrowing down selections) and money (from the professional discounts they might
receive). When meeting with an interior designer, be sure to talk about your personal
style and preferences. Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $150 per hour, or you
may negotiate a flat fee of perhaps 25% of the total project cost.
Depending on the scope of your home improvement plans, finding
funding may be a project itself. If the project is small, you may be able to save
for it from your regular household budget. For larger projects, you'll probably
need to borrow money. If you participate in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan at work, you
may be able to get a short-term loan from your account. To find out if this option
is available to you and to learn about any tax implications, talk to your benefits
administrator. Another possibility is borrowing against the cash value of your life
insurance policy. If you're interested in finding out more about this type of loan,
talk to your life insurance agent.
To take out other types of home improvement loans, head to
your local bank, savings and loan, or credit union. Compare interest rates, repayment
options and penalties from lending institutions before deciding on one of the following
Second mortgage: This is a loan against the equity in
your home. It is, in essence, an additional mortgage. Typically, financial institutions
will let you borrow up to 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus
the balance on your original mortgage. For example, if your home is appraised at
$100,000 and your current mortgage balance is $70,000, you may be able to borrow
$10,000 by way of a second mortgage. You may also incur all the fees normally associated
with a mortgage - closing costs, title insurance and processing fees. Talk to your
tax advisor about whether the interest on a second mortgage may be tax-deductible.
Refinancing: This involves paying off your old loan
and taking out a new mortgage on your home. To refinance, generally you'll need
to have equity in your home, a solid credit rating and a steady income. You'll incur
all the closing costs that go along with getting a new mortgage, so unless you're
doing extensive remodeling and can get a mortgage interest rate at least two points
less than you're currently paying, this type of loan may not be for you.
Home Equity Line of Credit: Like a second mortgage,
a home equity loan lets you tap up to about 80 percent of the appraised value of
your home, minus your current mortgage balance. Since it's set up as a line of credit,
you won't be charged interest until you make a withdrawal, but you will have to
pay closing costs. You can make withdrawals gradually as you start paying contractors
and suppliers. The interest rate charged is usually variable and may be based on
the outstanding balance. Make sure you understand the terms of the loan. If, for
example, your loan stipulates that you need to pay interest only for the life of
the loan, you'll have to pay back the full amount borrowed at the end of the loan
period or you could lose your home. The interest on home equity loans may be deductible;
talk to your tax advisor.
Unsecured Loan: Although the interest rates charged
are often higher and you generally will not be able to get a tax deduction for the
interest paid, the costs of obtaining an unsecured loan are usually lower. The relative
ease of obtaining this type of loan makes it popular for small projects costing
$10,000 or less. The lender will evaluate your application based on credit history
Be House Smart: You'll be happiest with the outcome
of a home improvement project if you plan carefully and do your homework. Armed
with the information in this pamphlet and a realistic idea of your needs and budget,
you'll find your home getting closer to your dream of perfection.
Don't Pay Another Cent in Rent To Your Landlord
"If you're like most renters, you feel trapped
within the walls of a house or apartment that doesn't feel like yours."
It's a dream we all have - to own our own home and stop paying rent.
But if you're like most renters, you feel trapped within the walls of a
house or apartment that doesn't feel like yours. How could it when you're
not even permitted to bang in a nail or two without a hassle. You feel like
you're stuck in the renter's rut with no way of rising up out of it and
owning your own home.
Don't Feel Trapped Anymore
It doesn't matter how long you've been renting, or how insurmountable
your financial situation may seem. The truth is, there are some little known
facts that can help you get over the hump, and transfer your status from
renter to homeowner. With this information, you will begin to see how you
save for a down payment
stop lining your landlord's pockets, and
- stop wasting thousands of dollars on rent.
6 Little Known Facts That Can Help You Buy Your First Home
The problem that most renters face isn't your ability to meet a monthly
payment. Goodness knows that you must meet this monthly obligation every 30
days already. The problem is accumulating enough capital to make a down
payment on something more permanent.
But saving for this lump sum doesn't have to be as difficult as you might
think. Consider the following 6 important points:
1. You can buy a home with much less down than you think
There are some local or federal government programs (such as 1st time
buyer programs) to help people get into the housing market. You can qualify
as a first time buyer even if your spouse has owned a home before as long as
your name was not registered. Ensure your real estate agent is informed and
knowledgeable in this important area and can offer programs to help you with
2. You may be able to get your lender to help you with your down payment
and closing costs
Even if you do not have enough cash for a downpayment, if you are
debt-free, and own an asset free and clear (such as a car for example), your
lending institution may be able to lend you the downpayment for your home
by securing it against this asset.
3. You may be able to find a seller to help you buy and finance your
Some sellers may be willing to hold a second mortgage for you as a
'seller take-back'. In this case, the seller becomes your lending
institution. Instead of paying this seller a lump-sum full amount for his or
her home, you would pay monthly mortgage installments.
4. You may be able to create a cash down payment without actually going
By borrowing money for certain investments to a specified level, you may
be able to generate a significant tax refund for yourself that you can use
as a downpayment. While the money borrowed for these investments is
technically a loan, the monthly amount paid can be small, and the money
invested in both home and investment will be yours in the end.
5. You can buy a home even if you have problems with your credit rating
If you can come up with more than the
minimum down-payment, or can secure the loan with other equity, many lending institutions will consider you for
a mortgage. Alternatively, a seller take-back mortgage could also help you
in this situation.
6. You can, and should, get pre-approved for a home loan before you go
looking for a home
Pre-approval is easy, and can give you complete peace-of-mind when
shopping for your home. Mortgage experts can obtain written pre-approval
for you at no cost and no obligation, and it can all be done quite easily
over-the-phone. More than just a verbal approval from your lending
institution, a written preapproval is as good as money in the bank. It
entails a completed credit application, and a certificate which guarantees
you a mortgage to the specified level when you find the home you're looking
for. Consider dealing only with a professional who specializes in mortgages.
Enlisting their services can make the difference between obtaining a
mortgage, and being stuck in the renter's rut forever. Typically there is
no cost or obligation to enquire.
There are many important issues you should be aware of that affect you
as a renter. Why on earth would you continue to lose thousands by throwing
it away on rent when with your agent you could take a few minutes to discuss
your specific needs so that you can stop renting and start owning.
This conversation costs you nothing. And, of course, you shouldn't
have to feel obligated to buy a home at the time you review this. But by
taking the time to explore your options, and learn about the ways you can
afford to buy a home, think how prepared and relaxed you'll be when you are
ready to make this important step.
Protecting Your Home from Fire and Carbon Monoxide
Safety & You
Everyone wants to live in a safe and worry free environment with their
families, spouse, and children. However, most people are closer to a
disaster waiting to happen than they think. Safety may not be an issue that
comes to mind as you go about your daily routine. You may feel safe. Yet,
lurking in your home are dangers that can take lives and destroy property.
Thousands of people die from fire every year. Most residential fire
deaths occur because of inhalation of toxic gas, rather than contact with
the flames. The tragedy is that many of these deaths could be prevented by
taking a few precautions.
General Fire Prevention Tips
- Do not plug too many appliances into an electrical outlet.
- Make sure that combustibles are not too close to heaters, stoves and
- Never smoke in bed, or leave a burning cigarette in an ashtray.
- Do not use damaged or frayed electrical cords or extension cords.
- Keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
- Teach your children about the dangers of playing with fire.
- Never use extension cords with heating or air conditioning equipment.
- Purchase smoke alarms and fire extinguishers for each floor of your
Have an Emergency Escape Plan! Practice it frequently!
- Develop an emergency exit plan and an alternate exit plan. The most
obvious way out may be blocked by fire. A window will usually be the
second way out of a bedroom. Make sure that screens or storm windows can
be easily removed. If you live in a two story home, you should have an
escape ladder for each occupied bedroom. Escape ladders are available for
purchase, and they can easily be stored under a bed or in a closet.
- Establish a meeting place outside your home to be sure everyone has
escaped. Every family member should participate in practicing escape
drills at least two times per year.
- In the event of fire, do not stop to get dressed or gather valuables.
Seconds count - do not search for the family pet.
- Teach your family that in a fire they must stay low to the floor to
avoid smoke and intense heat. Passageways may be completely filled with
dense smoke, so everyone should practice exiting on their hands and knees
- Train family members to feel a closed door before exiting. If the door
is warm, open it slowly, and close it quickly if heat or smoke rushes in.
- Establish a rule that once you're out, you never re-enter under any
circumstances. As soon as two people have reached the meeting place, one
should call 911 from a neighbor's house.
Through education and media campaigns, most people now realize the
importance of smoke alarms, and most homes in North America have them.
- Purchase a smoke alarm for every floor of your home, and read the
instructions on how to use it and where to position it.
- Smoke alarms should be placed near bedrooms, either on the ceiling or
six to twelve inches below the ceiling on the wall.
- Local codes may require additional alarms. Check with your fire
department or building code official.
- Locate smoke alarms away from air vents.
- Test your alarms regularly to ensure that they still work.
- If you have a battery powered alarm, change the battery every six
months when you change your clocks.
- For maximum protection, install BOTH ionization and photoelectric
smoke alarms in the home for the optimum detection of fast flaming fires
and slow smoldering fires.
To guard against small fires or to keep a small fire from developing into
a big one, every home should be equipped with a fire extinguisher. Because
almost all fires are small at first, they might be contained if a fire
extinguisher is handy and used properly. You should take care, however, to
select the right kind of fire extinguisher, because there are different ones
for different kinds of fires. Install fire extinguishers on every level of
the home and include the kitchen, basement and garage.
Selecting a Fire Extinguisher
Extinguishers are classified according to the class of fire for which
they are suitable. The four classes of fires are A, B, C, D:
- Class A fires involve common combustibles such as wood, paper, cloth,
rubber, trash and plastics. They are common in typical commercial and home
- Class B fires involve flammable liquids, solvents, oil, gasoline,
paints, lacquers and other oil-based products. Class B fires often spread
rapidly. Unless they are properly suppressed, they can re-flash after the
flames have been extinguished.
- Class C fires involve energized equipment such as wiring, controls,
motors, machinery or appliances. They can be caused by a spark, a power
surge, or a short circuit and typically occur in locations that may be
difficult to see or reach.
- Class D fires involve combustible metals.
A typical home or office fire extinguisher should have an ABC rating.
One of the greatest threats to your safety is the quality of air within
your home. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a subtle yet dangerous threat because the
gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless.
Each year, hundreds of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Thousands of other people suffer the effects of the gas without realizing
it. Because CO symptoms mimic the flu and other common illnesses, CO
poisoning can be easily missed during a routine medical examination.
CO is produced when any fuel does not burn completely because of
insufficient oxygen. Mild exposure to CO gives most people a slight
headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue ("flu-like" symptoms) followed by a
throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, and fast heart rate. If the
entire family becomes ill after a few hours in the home, and feels better
when they leave the home, carbon monoxide poisoning should be suspected.
Possible sources of CO include:
- Furnace or boiler
- Gas or fuel-oil water heater
- Gas or wood fireplace
- Gas kitchen range
- Plugged, rusted, disconnected, or defective chimneys or vents
- Back drafting of combustion gases into the home
- Automobiles in attached garages
Certain clues can indicate a carbon monoxide problem. Check to see if you
have any of the following:
- Rusting or streaking on chimney or vent
- Loose or missing furnace panel
- Soot on venting or appliances
- Loose or disconnected venting
- Debris or soot falling from chimney
- Moisture on interior side of windows
CO can be produced and spill into your home without any of the preceding
clues present. Heating appliances that appear to be operating correctly can
still be sources of CO. Burning charcoal or wood produces CO that can spill
into the home. Gasoline engines, when first started, produce large amounts
of CO. Autos in attached garages are often sources of CO.
How To Protect Yourself
To avoid CO exposure in the home, it is important to:
- Make sure heating appliances are installed and used in accordance with
- Make sure chimneys and vents draw all gases out of the home.
- Have the heating system, chimney and vents inspected and serviced
annually by a qualified heating contractor.
- Never use charcoal grills indoors.
- Never heat your home with a gas kitchen range.
- Always use a kitchen range hood, vented to the outdoors, when cooking
on a gas range.
- Never warm-up or run vehicles or other gasoline engines in garages or
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that every residence
with fuel burning appliances be equipped with at least one CO alarm. For
added protection, place one on every level of the home. Read and follow
If your alarm indicates high levels of carbon monoxide in your home:
- Immediately move outdoors to fresh air and do a head count
- Call your emergency services
- Do not re-enter the home until emergency service responders have
arrived, aired out the house, and determined it is safe to re-enter
- Correct the problem before starting the heating appliances
- If a carbon monoxide alarm sounds again, repeat the above steps. Do
not ignore alarms.
Fires are traumatizing and frightening, as is a carbon monoxide incident.
It is essential to fully recognize the hazards of fire and carbon monoxide
poisoning and to take preventative action. A regular home inspection, smoke
and carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers and an emergency exit plan
will help you and your family live more safely.