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.
Fixing Up Your Home: Protect Your Housing Investment
Your home is an investment in living as well as in savings. If neglected, it will pay no dividends. If properly maintained and improved, it will pay a high yield in comfort and usefulness for your family and in avoidance of costly repair bills. Home improvements also tend to raise neighborhood standards and, as a result, property values. From an economic standpoint, home improvements mean higher employment, increased markets for materials and home products--and therefore a more flourishing community.
If You Do It Yourself
If you are handy with tools and have the experience, you can save money by doing many jobs yourself. But unless you are skilled in wiring, plumbing, installing heat systems, and cutting through walls, you should rely on professionals for such work.
When you buy the required materials, it pays not to skimp. Good materials are not necessarily the most expensive. What you need are products that look good, are easy to maintain, and last a long time. Buy only from reliable dealers.
If You Use a Contractor
If you plan to use the services of a dealer or contractor, take care to choose one with a reputation for honesty and good workmanship. There are several ways to check on a contractor:
Compare Contractor Offers
Before deciding on a contractor, you may want to get bids from two or three different firms. Make sure that each bid is based on the same specifications and the same grade of materials. If these bids vary widely, find out why.
Many contractors offer package plans that cover the whole transaction. Under such a plan the contractor provides all materials used, takes care of all work involved, and arranges for your loan.
Your contractor can make the loan application for you, but you are the one who must repay the loan, so you should see that the work is done correctly.
Understand What You Sign
The contract that both you and the contractor sign should state clearly the type and extent of improvements to be made and the materials to be used. Before you sign, get the contractor to spell out for you in exact terms:
After the entire job is finished in the manner set forth in your contract, you sign a completion certificate. By signing this paper you certify that you approve the work and materials and you authorize the lender to pay the contractor the money you borrowed.
Beware of Fraud
Most dealers and contractors conscientiously try to give their customers service equivalent to the full value of their money. Unfortunately, home improvement rackets do exist. Here are a few common sense rules to follow:
6 Mistakes To Avoid When Trading Up to a Larger Home
".....you have to sell your present home at exactly the right time in order to avoid either the financial burden of owning two homes or, just as bad, the dilemma of having no place to live during the gap between closings...."
Unlike the experience of buying a first home, when youre looking to move-up, and already own a home, there are certain factors that can complicate the situation. Its very important for you to consider these issues before you list your home for sale.
Not only is there the issue of financing to consider, but you also have to sell your present home at exactly the right time in order to avoid either the financial burden of owning two homes or, just as bad, the dilemma of having no place to live during the gap between closings.
In this report, we outline the six most common mistakes homeowners make when moving to a larger home. Knowledge of these six mistakes, and the strategies to overcome them, will help you make informed choices before you put your existing home on the market.
1. Rose-colored glasses
Most of us dream of improving our lifestyle and moving to a larger home. The problem is that there's sometimes a discrepancy between our hearts and our bank accounts. You drive by a home that you fall in love with only to find that it's already sold or that its more than what you are willing to pay. Most homeowners get caught in this hit or miss strategy of house hunting when there's a much easier way of going about the process. For example, find out if your agent offers a Buyer Profile System or House-hunting Service, which takes the guesswork away and helps to put you in the home of your dreams. This type of program will cross match your criteria with ALL available homes on the market and supply you with printed information on an ongoing basis. A program like this helps homeowners take off their rose-colored glasses and, affordably, move into the home of their dreams.
2. Failing to make necessary improvements
If you want to get the best price for the home you're selling, there will certainly be things you can do to enhance it in a prospective buyer's eyes. These fix ups don't necessarily have to be expensive. But even if you do have to make a minor investment, it will often come back to you ten fold in the price you are able to get when you sell. It's very important that these improvements be made before you put your home on the market. If cash is tight, investigate an equity loan that you can repay on closing.
3. Not selling first
You should plan to sell before you buy. This way you will not find yourself at a disadvantage at the negotiating table, feeling pressured to accept an offer that is below market value because you have to meet a purchase deadline. If you've already sold your home, you can buy your next one with no strings attached. If you do get a tempting offer on your home but haven't made significant headway on finding your next home, you might want to put in a contingency clause in the sale contract which gives you a reasonable time to find a home to buy. If the market is slow and you find your home is not selling as quickly as you anticipated, another option could be renting your home and putting it up on the market later - particularly if you are selling a smaller, starter home. You'll have to investigate the tax rules if you choose this latter option. Better still, find a way to eliminate this situation altogether by getting your agent to guarantee the sale of your present home (see point number 5 below).
4. Failing to get a pre-approved mortgage
Pre-approval is a very simple process that many homeowners fail to take advantage of. While it doesn't cost or obligate you to anything, pre-approval gives you a significant advantage when you put an offer on the home you want to purchase because you know exactly how much house you can afford, and you already have the green light from your lending institution. With a pre-approved mortgage, your offer will be viewed far more favorably by a seller - sometimes even if it's a little lower than another offer that's contingent on financing. Don't fail to take this important step.
5. Getting caught in the Real Estate Catch 22
Your biggest dilemma when buying and selling is deciding which to do first. Point number 3 above advises you to sell first. However there are ways to eliminate this dilemma altogether. Some agents offer a Guaranteed Sale Trade-Up Program that actually takes the problem away from you entirely by guaranteeing the sale of your present home before you take possession of your next one. If you find a home you wish to purchase and have not sold your current home yet, they will buy your home from you themselves so you can make your move free of stress and worry.
6. Failing to coordinate closings
With two major transactions to coordinate together with all the people involved such as mortgage experts, appraisers, lawyers, loan officers, title company representatives, home inspectors or pest inspectors the chances of mix ups and miscommunication go up dramatically. To avoid a logistical nightmare ensure you work closely with your agent.
Automatic and Programmable Thermostats
In our modern, high tech society, we don't think much about some of the electronic gadgets in our homes. Take, for example, the ever present thermostat--a staple of North American households for decades. It usually takes the shape of an unassuming box on the wall, but that modest device controls the comfort of your family on the coldest day in January and the hottest day in July.
What Is a Thermostat?
It is a temperature sensitive switch that controls a space conditioning unit or system, such as a furnace, air conditioner, or both. When the indoor temperature drops below or rises above the thermostat setting, the switch moves to the "on" position, and your furnace or air conditioner runs to warm or cool the house air to the setting you selected for your family's comfort. A thermostat, in its simplest form, must be manually adjusted to change the indoor air temperature.
General Thermostat Operation
You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68°F (20°C) when you're at home and awake, and lowering it when you're asleep or away. This strategy is effective and inexpensive if you are willing to adjust the thermostat by hand and wake up in a chilly house. In the summer, you can follow the same strategy with central air conditioning, too, by keeping your house warmer than normal when you are away, and lowering the thermostat setting to 78°F (26°C) only when you are at home and need cooling.
A common misconception associated with thermostats is that a furnace works harder than normal to warm the space back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings. This misconception has been dispelled by years of research and numerous studies. The fuel required to reheat a building to a comfortable temperature is roughly equal to the fuel saved as the building drops to the lower temperature. You save fuel between the time that the temperature stabilizes at the lower level and the next time heat is needed. So, the longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save.
Another misconception is that the higher you raise a thermostat, the more heat the furnace will put out, or that the house will warm up faster if the thermostat is raised higher. Furnaces put out the same amount of heat no matter how high the thermostat is set--the variable is how long it must stay on to reach the set temperature.
In the winter, significant savings can be obtained by manually or automatically reducing your thermostat's temperature setting for as little as four hours per day. These savings can be attributed to a building's heat loss in the winter, which depends greatly on the difference between the inside and outside temperatures. For example, if you set the temperature back on your thermostat for an entire night, your energy savings will be substantial. By turning your thermostat back 10° to 15° for 8 hours, you can save about 5% to 15% a year on your heating bill--a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates. In the summer, you can achieve similar savings by keeping the indoor temperature a bit higher when you're away than you do when you're at home.
But there is a certain amount of inconvenience that results from manually controlling the temperature on your thermostat. This includes waking up in a cooler than normal house in the winter and possibly forgetting to adjust the thermostat (during any season) when you leave the house or go to bed.
Thermostats with Automatic Temperature Adjustment
To maximize your energy savings without sacrificing comfort, you can install an automatic setback or programmable thermostat. They adjust the temperature setting for you. While you might forget to turn down the heat before you leave for work in the morning, a programmable thermostat won't! By maintaining the highest or lowest required temperatures for four or five hours a day instead of 24 hours, a programmable thermostat can pay for itself in energy saved within four years.
Programmable thermostats have features with which you may be unfamiliar. The newest generation of residential thermostat technologies is based on microprocessors and thermostat sensors. Most of these programmable thermostats perform one or more of the following energy control functions:
A Note for Heat Pump Owners
When a heat pump is in its heating mode, setting back a conventional heat pump thermostat can cause the unit to operate inefficiently, thereby cancelling out any savings achieved by lowering the temperature setting. Maintaining a moderate setting is the most cost effective practice. Recently, however, some companies have begun selling specially designed setback thermostats for heat pumps, which make setting back the thermostat cost effective. In its cooling mode, the heat pump operates like an air conditioner; therefore, manually turning up the thermostat will save you money.
Types of Automatic and Programmable Thermostats
There are five basic types of automatic and programmable thermostats:
Most range in price from $30 to $100, except for occupancy and light sensing thermostats, which cost around $200.
Electromechanical (EM) thermostats, usually the easiest devices to operate, typically have manual controls such as movable tabs to set a rotary timer and sliding levers for night and day temperature settings. These thermostats work with most conventional heating and cooling systems, except heat pumps. EM controls have limited flexibility and can store only the same settings for each day, although at least one manufacturer has a model with separate settings for each day of the week. EM thermostats are best suited for people with regular schedules.
Digital thermostats are identified by their LED or LCD digital readout and data entry pads or buttons. They offer the widest range of features and flexibility, and digital thermostats can be used with most heating and cooling systems. They provide precise temperature control, and they permit custom scheduling. Programming some models can be fairly complicated; make sure you are comfortable with the functions and operation of the thermostat you choose. Remember-- you won't save energy if you don't set the controls or you set them incorrectly. Hybrid systems combine the technology of digital controls with manual slides and knobs to simplify use and maintain flexibility. Hybrid models are available for most systems, including heat pumps.
Occupancy thermostats maintain the setback temperature until someone presses a button to call for heating or cooling. They do not rely on the time of day. The ensuing preset "comfort period" lasts from 30 minutes to 12 hours, depending on how you've set the thermostat. Then, the temperature returns to the setback level. These units offer the ultimate in simplicity, but lack flexibility. Occupancy thermostats are best suited for spaces that remain unoccupied for long periods of time.
Light sensing heat thermostats rely on the lighting level preset by the owner to activate heating systems. When lighting is reduced, a photocell inside the thermostat senses unoccupied conditions and allows space temperatures to fall 10° below the occupied temperature setting. When lighting levels increase to normal, temperatures automatically adjust to comfort conditions. These units do not require batteries or programming and reset themselves after power failures. Light sensing thermostats are designed primarily for stores and offices where occupancy determines lighting requirements, and therefore heating requirements.
Choosing a Programmable Thermostat
Because programmable thermostats are a relatively new technology, you should learn as much as you can before selecting a unit. When shopping for a thermostat, bring information with you about your current unit, including the brand and model number. Also, ask these questions before buying a thermostat:
Most automatic and programmable thermostats completely replace existing units. These are preferred by many homeowners. However, some devices can be placed over existing thermostats and are mechanically controlled to permit automatic setbacks. These units are usually powered by batteries, which eliminates the need for electrical wiring. They tend to be easy to program, and because they run on batteries, the clocks do not lose time during power outages.
Before you buy a programmable thermostat, chart your weekly habits including wake up and departure times, return home times, and bedtimes, and the temperatures that are comfortable during those times. This will help you decide what type of thermostat will best serve your needs.
The location of your thermostat can affect its performance and efficiency. Read the manufacturer's installation instructions to prevent "ghost readings" or unnecessary furnace or air conditioner cycling. Place thermostats away from direct sunlight, drafts, doorways, skylights, and windows. Also make sure your thermostat is conveniently located for programming.
Some modern heating and cooling systems require special controls. Heat pumps are the most common and usually require special setback thermostats. These thermostats typically use special algorithms to minimize the use of backup electric resistance heat systems. Electric resistance systems, such as electric baseboard heating, also require thermostats capable of directly controlling 120 volt or 240 volt line voltage circuits. Only a few companies manufacture line voltage setback thermostats.
A Simpler Way to Control Your Environment
The best thermostat for you will depend on your life style and comfort level in varying house temperatures. While automatic and programmable thermostats save energy, a manual unit can be equally effective if you diligently regulate its setting--and if you don't mind a chilly house on winter mornings. If you decide to choose an automatic thermostat, you can set it to raise the temperature before you wake up and spare you some discomfort. It will also perform consistently and dependably to keep your house at comfortable temperatures during the summer heat, as well.