Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Q. I want to start the New Year off right and really fix my place up.

I haven’t really done much in years. Many of my friends are selling their current homes and buying smaller ones so that they can travel or they’re retiring and moving to a warmer climate. I realize that if I had to sell today I probably wouldn’t get top dollar because I’ve sort of let the place go. I have some money saved up so I can get things done. Where do I start?

Sounds like you’re really thinking ahead. Good for you! I would start with a complete home inspection. This is the kind of inspection buyer’s do during the course of a sale. The inspector can tell you everything that should be fixed. Prepare for a shock. Most of us don’t take care of our home well as we should. Typically you could have mold, rot, pest damage, water leaks, possible electrical issues, outdated appliances and maybe a roof that’s getting too old.

Take the inspection report and make a work order list. Go through the list, getting the work done over the next year as you have the time and money. That could include dealing with wood rot, fixing leaks, buying a water heater, any number of things. Then check out the things that need updating. Do you have double pane windows? If not get those installed. People care about energy efficiency and it will save you money on heating bills. A good paint job, inside and out is a great idea.

New flooring or floor covering is a good addition if the carpets are worn or a really out dated type or color. Since wood floors are the most popular, you could add those in the main living area. Cabinets may need replacing or painting to look fresh. Counter tops might be very out dated and need replacing. I’ve seen homes sell for double the money that seller’s put into them to “spruce” them up, so it’s worth the effort.

Next, turn your attention to the outside area. How does your landscaping look? Get rid of invasives, like scotch broom and blackberry bushes. Maybe plant a tidy garden or have the current one weeded well and add new, spring bulbs and flowers. Clean out the garbage and out buildings. If you haven’t used something in a year or two you probably don’t need it.

If you’re no good at this stuff get some help from professionals. Be SURE to get references and bids. Start with a reputable inspector who’s certified by the Association of American Home Inspectors and comes recommended.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Q. We just want to ask you to remind people to clean their chimney every year.

I’ll admit that I was stubborn when my wife kept harping on me to get it done. Well we had a chimney fire and if we hadn’t been home at the time we could have lost the house.

I’m happy to remind folks about this important issue. Congratulations on being a big enough person that you were willing to admit you were wrong. Many people fail to have their chimneys cleaned regularly. Creosol builds up quickly. Using green wood makes it worse. Using it for garbage and paper also is a bad idea.

I might also make a pitch for converting to gas, propane or pellet stoves if you can possibly afford it. It’s much cleaner and causes less pollution in the air outside and much less pollution inside your home. Also, at the cost of wood these days it can even be cheaper. Last, many insurance companies no longer write new policies on houses that have wood stoves. In some cases your insurance company can deny a claim based on a fire started by a wood stove.

Another important reminder this time of year is to clean your gutters. Water flowing out of control causes rot. I see this often in homes I sell. Even newer homes can have wood destroying bugs that are attracted to wet and rotted wood. Basements flood or seep, causing mold and mildew. Roofs can rot as water wicks up into the wood under the roofing material because drains are backed up. It ends up costing thousands of dollars to fix what could have been avoided just by cleaning the gutters. Hire someone else if you aren’t able to do it yourself.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Q. We are upset to discover that another mobile home is going into our neighborhood.

We bought our custom built home a few years ago and at that time there were two such homes. Now there are five. We’re worried that it will bring down property values. What do you think?

I think you shouldn’t worry about it. Our community prides itself on making room for everyone and our neighborhoods are very eclectic. Mansions next to older manufactured homes are common here. It does not reflect on resale value at all.

It’s important to understand that today’s manufactured homes are an affordable way that moderate-income folks can have a home here. That’s especially true if they want acreage. A custom built home will run between $125 and $150 a square foot to build. This means that even a modest home of, say, 1600 square feet, will cost $200,000 to $250,000 to build plus the cost of the property and the land improvements.

That same sized manufactured home will cost between $50,000 and $100,000 depending on how deluxe it is. These homes are built to the same basic standards as “stick built” homes and once on the land, go up in value just like an on-site built rambler. Today, some of these homes are even two story and really very beautiful.

For the basic, economic models, adding porches, decks, garages, and landscaping can change a “boxy” look to more of a cottage. There are major manufactured home developments in the region that are exceptional. I doubt if you would know they were manufactured if you visited these planned communities.

I would recommend you put out the welcome mat and meet your neighbors. Once you get to know them your fears should disappear.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Q. My husband and I made an offer on a house we liked and then found out that most of the property is in Forest Stewardship.

We figured this meant we could never cut the forest and on eof the most appealing things about the property is that we would get a view if we cut a few of the trees. We are also worried about re-sale value. I thought we would ask your opinion on this.

The County has several different open space programs that reduce your taxes significantly in return for keeping part of your land forested. The landowner can do his own plan or hire a licensed forester to do it. Most stewardship plans include cutting some trees while encouraging the concept of managed forestry. This approach enhances the value of the forest both for habitat and commercial value of the lumber.

A new owner can usually modify the plan. It’s also a good idea to take the excellent stewardship class sponsored by the County so that you understand the program. You might also contact the Forest Stewards, a local non-profit group who can advise you.

Certainly thinning the forest to open up a view would be allowed within the Stewardship Plan as long as the trees are not in a sensitive area. You could make that a condition of the sale and then speak to the County Office of Open Space about it before you close on the sale.

As for re-sale value, I can speak from my own experience. I’ve sold several properties that are in the various open space programs. In every case they were valued higher, not lower, by purchasers. Saving on taxes while you enjoy a beautiful property is very appealing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Q. We recently bought a house and went through a home inspection.

Now, many months later, we find that we have a major mold problem in one room. We had it inspected by a mold expert and it will require removing a section of the roof, taking out the mold and insulation, then replacing the insulation and the roofing. No one said anything about this during the sale and we’d like the seller to pay for it.

Mold has become the leading subject of real estate law suits around the country and may get worse before it gets better. It causes health problems, and black mold especially, has caused the temporary closing of schools, factories and apartment buildings. It’s a serious problem and I’m glad you got an expert out right away before the damage (and your health) became worse.

If the seller had never had a mold problem before, or if it occurred after the sale, it’s unlikely that you have recourse against them. Mold is insidious. It can fester inside walls or ceilings for a long time unnoticed. It’s even possible that the seller didn’t recognize it for what it was. Most molds first appear as small dark spots that can look like many things. It grows when excess moisture is present and can develop quickly.

Unless you have some proof that the mold was present and easily identified before the sale, you probably have no case. If your inspector was a good one and didn’t find the mold, it probably wasn’t visible or wasn’t there. REMEMBER to keep all areas of a house heated at least to 50to dry out moisture. Run the ceiling fan when you shower or bathe. Clean showers and tubs often with mold and mildew killing products. Plain bleach works fine.