Fire Hazard update

outletTangled extension cords? Power strips galore?  You home’s wiring system might be working overtime with all the new gadgets you currently have – and might be at risk for igniting a fire.  Straighten out these wiring problems and more with tips from This Old House.

Have a licensed electrician walk through your home every five years to look at the wire insulation and the service panel and check for any code violations.  If you’re doing it yourself, start by turning off the circuit at the main breaker panel.

Code requires outlets within 4 feet of a door and every 12 feet after that.  Extension cords can be useful, but keep in mind that smaller-gauged cords can overheat and start a fire if overused.  Adding more outlets can run about $100 per outlet on first levels and $200 upstairs.

Another fire hazard is overlamping, in which light fixtures have a bulb with higher-than-recommended wattage installed.  Check the fixtures’ wattage limit or use bulbs that are smaller than 60 watts.

Flickering lights aren’t just annoying – they could be a sign of wire trouble, too.  The outdoor fitting where overhead cables from the power line come into the house, or frayed wiring in the weather head, causes the short when the cable moves.  Call your electric utility company to have any power related lines looked at.

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That time of the Year

IMG_1324Kick off the New Year with a fresh attitude about home maintenance.  After all, you don’t want to wait until the furnace conks out before you deal with it.  Keep things in good working order with The Weather Channel’s to-do list.

First, take a ‘snow’ day day to organize your files and review warranties and manual for equipment, appliances and other tools.  There, you’ll find how often to check or replace items.

Take a room-by-room inventory with photos or video.  In the case of fires, floods or other disasters, a record of your possessions can be very helpful when filing insurance claims.

Examine furniture and cabinets for loose knobs and hinges, and repair as needed.  Fix squeaks in floors and stairs.

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Clearing Up Your Pre-Loan Questions

re-financeIf you are getting ready to purchase a home, you probably have heard the terms prequalified and preapproved.  Many buyers think these terms are the same thing, but they are quite different.

Getting prequalified consists of a discussion between you and a loan officer.  A loan officer collects information regarding your income, monthly debts, credit history, and assets.  Based on that information, the loan officer then calculates an estimated mortgage amount for which you qualify.  Getting prequalified is basically receiving an estimate of what you can afford.

Getting preapproved, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive approach, providing an actual decision on a home loan.  This is actual credit approval, and it includes some considerable benefits.

As a buyer, you will have a greatly improved negotiating position when you are preapproved for a mortgage.  Sellers are more apt to negotiate with someone who already has a mortgage approval in hand.  The preapproval letter lets the seller know you are a serious buyer.  As a preapproved buyer, you also can close on a property more quickly, which is another major consideration for a motivated seller.

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Buyers & Mortgage Brokers

mortgageLow interest rates have enticed thousands of Americans to seek funding for a new home or to refinance an existing mortgage.  This surge has created a demand for mortgage brokers, whose job it is to help borrower’s complete applications and secure loan rates.  It is estimated that brokers process hundreds of billions of dollars in mortgages every year.  If you are thinking of buying a home or refinancing  your existing one, here are some tips for finding a qualified broker to help;

  • Get good references.  If you want the help of a mortgage broker, ask friends or a trusted professional at your bank for a recommendation.
  • Get an upfront estimate.  This won’t be a problem, because federal law requires mortgage broker to provide you with a written estimate of the total cost of your mortgage transaction no later than three days after you apply.
  • Be careful about fees.  Brokers receive most of their compensation from lenders, who pay them a small commission on the mortgage deal.  If you’re asked to pay more than you expected, ask your broker for a detailed explanation of all costs.  You may find that you do not need all the services your broker offers.


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Photo Shoot

IMG_4077 Virtual tours and photo slide shows are great tools for any Realtor, and they can make or break a sale.  But a home that looks neglected on camera won’t shine in a potential buyer’s eyes.  If you’re thinking of listing your home, help your agent make your home stand out on video & photos by preparing it for its digital close-up.

Clean up.  Walk through every room and pick  up items that don’t belong – like the forgotten stack of magazines on your footstool or the shoes lounging by your bed.  They’ll be obvious in video or photos, and can distract the viewer.  Before the pros photograph your house, snap a few short and take a look — what sticks out at a glace will surely be the first things a potential buyer would notice, too.

Remove personal touches.  Remember, this won’t be your home anymore, so it shouldn’t look like  it.  Prior to showing  a house, take down family photos, heirlooms and even college  diplomas.

Update with a few new details.  Flip through a few home decorating publications and take a look at what’s trendy and adjust your décor to match.  A colorful vase of flowers on a glass coffee table, for example, make the room look warm and inviting.

Store unnecessary furniture.  A good rule of thumb is that the only furniture in the room should accurately display what the room is (a dining room table & chairs in that room, for example).  Removing  extra side tables or a chair in the corner that’s hardly used will make the rooms look larger and allow the viewer to imagine his or her furniture in the space.



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Hiring a Contractor?

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is alerting California consumers who are considering hiring a painter, landscaper, or any other type of construction contractor that it is illegal to ask for or accept a down payment of more than 10% of the total home improvement contract price or $1,000. whichever is less.  A person should never pay for work before it is completed, or pay for materials before they are delivered to the property.  Make sure the written contract contains a progress payment schedule that outlines project phases, with all costs and estimated completion dates.

More helpful tips on hiring contractors can be found on the CSLB website:


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Streamlined Loan Modifications

Seal of the United States Federal Housing Fina...
Seal of the United States Federal Housing Finance Agency. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Federal Housing Finance Agency announced a simplified loan modification initiative that is intended to help troubled borrowers avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.  Beginning July 1, 2013, lenders will offer eligible borrowers who are at least 90 days delinquent on their mortgage an easier way to lower their monthly payments and modify their loan without requiring documentation of their financial hardship.

Borrowers must demonstrate a willingness and ability to pay by making three on-time trial payments, after which the mortgage will be permanently modified.  Borrowers are encourages to work with their lender to evaluate other foreclosure prevention options, however.  The program is available to borrowers whose loans are owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.




info from CRS magazine, May/June 2013

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Presale Improvements & Curb Appeal

Making exterior improvements to your home before putting it on the market will draw more potential buyers once it is listed.  This is known as improving your home’s ‘curb appeal’, and because first impressions are important, it may help ensure a quick sale.  But the first thing you need to do is decide how much time and money you are willing to invest in presale improvements.

You can go as far as resurfacing the driveway or applying a fresh coat of paint.  The good news is that you should be able to recover the cost of these larger improvements in the sale.

If you’d rather not invest so much time and money, smaller improvements can also do a lot to improve the curb appeal.  Try adding colorful flowers to your landscaping or simply adding potted flowers to your doorway.  Painting the front door an inviting new color may attract potential buyers.  Even polishing your doorknob and putting out a new doormat can help make a favorable first impression.

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Budget Crunching

Credit Cards
Credit Cards (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

If you’re wondering where all your money goes, you’re not alone.  Financial services company along with credit card management advisors surveyed more than 1,300 working people on their spending habits during the summer of 2012.  Here’s some of what they discovered:

Rent/mortgage payments were cited by 83% of men and women as one of their top three monthly expenses. (Homeownership is also the single largest source of wealth for most Americans.) Credit card debt was a major expenditure as well, named by 28% of men and women.  Car payments, on the other hand, weren’t in the top three lists of either males or females.

Only 38% of participants in the survey said they follow a monthly budget.  Less than half said they didn’t know how much money they have available each month for discretionary spending.  Among those who could name a figure, men tended to have more discretionary cash than women: $1,180 per month for men and $631 for women.

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Cleaning Tile tips

Tile is a durable, versatile addition to any home.  But even the toughest tile can get spots and stains from time to time.  Here are some ways to clean your tile:

  • Remove mildew and make tiles sparkle by sponging with a solution of ammonia and water.
  • For stubborn stains, apply a paste of scouring powder and water, and let it sit for five minutes.  Scrub with a nylon scrubbing pad, rinse and wipe dry.  Avoid using a brush with stiff bristles, which could scratch the surface of the tiles.
  • to keep the grout joints on tile clean longer, wash with a solution of 1 to 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach in one quart of water.  Dry thoroughly, and then apply an acrylic sealer or three coats of lemon oil.  Let dry one hour between coats.
  • If tiles have a dull film, wash them with a solution of vinegar and water. Polish with a towel.


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