5 Things Every Loving Homeowner Should Know About Their Own Home
Your relationship with your home is one that will hopefully last a long time, so it pays to learn its most intimate details. And not to be weird, but we really do mean intimate: what turns it on (or off), what makes it hot (or cold), and its delicate inner workings.
Because, after all, your home takes care of you—it keeps you warm, safe, well-fed—so it has every right to act a little high-maintenance and demand some TLC in return. Neglect your house, and there could be hell to pay later in the form of floods, electrical outages, and worse.
So as a sort of how-deep-is-your-love kind of test, ask yourself if you know these five things about your home—and if not, maybe you should go find out.
Love is a two-way street!
Q: Where is the main water shut-off valve?
Imagine you’re anywhere in your house where water is a feature: bathroom, kitchen, laundry room. They’re all connected by a network of pipes that come from your main water source. If any of those tangential pipes springs a leak, you’ll need to shut off the water until it can be fixed.
Every home is different, but you can likely find your main valve near the perimeter of your house, at ground level, nearest your water meter. If your water pipes are visible (in the basement, for example), follow them until you reach the main inlet and valve.
It’s possible your shut-off valve could be in a crawl space, closet, or somewhere out of the way, but it should definitely be in plain sight, rather than covered over with drywall. But rather than sit there and wonder, be sure to ask the previous home seller before you move in or check your home’s blueprints for a clue.
Q: Where is your circuit box, and is it properly labeled?
A circuit box is your house’s bodyguard against sudden spikes in electricity that run through the wires. Know your circuit box! It may enable you to avoid hiring a technician for simple electrical issues.
Most circuit boxes are located in a house’s basement, but some are also found in garages or utility closets. The switches inside correspond to rooms and sets of outlets in your home. Hopefully, they’re labeled properly—and if not, you should get on that pronto to avoid a tortuous guessing game every time you need to turn your power on and off.
If power suddenly goes out in a room (usually because you have too much plugged into one outlet), you can identify the tripped circuit by the switch that’s flipped in the opposite direction to the others. That means you may need to plug in your lava lamp elsewhere.
Q: What is a thermocouple, and do you know how to change it?
When your furnace goes out, you’ll be left in the cold—but not if you know how to change its thermocouple.This is the part of the furnace that shuts off the gas if your pilot light goes out, preventing that gas from seeping into your home. (You know, the gas that can kill you if left to run amok.)
If the furnace won’t stay lit, there’s a good chance you have a faulty thermocouple. Learning how to replace or adjust yours can be the difference between a $10 trip to the hardware store, and a $90/hour visit from a technician. Most thermocouples are held in place by brackets, which can be gently unscrewed to insert the replacement thermocouple.
Keeping a spare thermocouple on hand during winter is especially smart, because furnace problems can be mo
Q: Where are all your filters, and when was the last time they were replaced?
Lots of appliances in your home have filters. In fact, any device that conducts air or water should have some sort of filter in place to remove impurities and particulates. Changing these filters routinely can save you money, and keep you safe, which is why it’s helpful to know when they’re due to be replaced. Furnace filters should be replaced every two to three months; HVAC, ice maker, and water dispenser filters must change at least once a year. But that varies based on the manufacturer, so be sure to check your maintenance manual and not let it slide.
Q: Does your home have a sump pump, and do you know how to maintain it?
A sump pump is a pump (duh) installed in certain basements and crawl spaces to keep these areas of your home dry, which it does by collecting water that tries to seep in and moving it far, far away (or at least as far as the drainage ditch in your yard). They’re especially common in regions where basement flooding is an issue. Without a sump pump, the invading water can result in thousands of dollars in damage.
The good news, though, is that sump pumps are relatively easy to maintain. Check both lines, in and out, to make sure they’re not clogged with debris, and make sure the float component (this is the little bob that floats upward when water begins to fill the sump pit, activating the pump) can move smoothly.
re inconvenient—and costly—during the peak times of the year.
By Lisa Johnson Mandell |
Sam Edwards/Getty Images
Getting a mortgage is a daunting prospect, which explains why so many people seem eager to pat your hand and say, “Let me give you a little advice.” Sure, those pearls of wisdom may come from an ocean of good intentions, but the suggestions might not necessarily be right for you. In fact, they could be dead wrong.
So before you take some friendly outside counsel as gospel, be sure to check it against our list of the worst mortgage advice people often give.
‘Don’t bother getting pre-approved for a mortgage’
Why you might hear this: Hey, you’ve barely begun shopping for a home! There’s no need to get all serious about mortgages just yet. And besides, a mortgage pre-approval isn’t real anyway— your application isn’t reviewed by an underwriter, so it’s no guarantee you’ll get approved for a mortgage later. So why bother?
Why it’s bad advice: While a pre-approval might not be “official,” it will help you avoid major problems down the road.
“Getting pre-approved by a bank is one way to avoid the heartbreak that comes from falling in love with a house you can never buy,” says Maryalene LaPonsie of MoneyTalks. “It may also give you an edge if there are multiple offers for the same property. A seller will feel more confident selecting a bid from someone with a mortgage pre-approval rather than a person who hasn’t even begun the process.”
‘Get your mortgage from the bank where you already have an account’
Why you might hear this: When it comes to convenience, you just can’t beat the bank you’re already using. Plus, since you have an existing relationship with it, it’ll give you the best rates, right?
Why it’s bad advice: You already know to shop around for a home. You need to do the same with your loan.
“Even though the big bank where I keep my checking and savings accounts claims they’ll give me better service and an easier application process, that may not always be true,” says Albert Tumpson, a banking and real estate attorney who owns several properties and refinances them every couple of years. “I’ve found more favorable terms with other venues. Always go with the most favorable terms.”
‘Don’t bother reading the fine print’
Why you might hear this: Because actually perusing all that mortgage paperwork will drive you insane! And besides, this is the standard contract that everyone gets. Just sign here, here, and here—and you’ll save yourself a ton of headaches.
Why it’s bad advice: Because that fine print contains some clauses that could cost you serious money!
“Take your time and go over every last word with a fine-toothed comb,” says Jamie, a homeowner who purchased her second home two years ago. She was astounded when her lender asked her to sign a mortgage contract involving hundreds of thousands of dollars without “bothering” to read the details. Jamie ended up taking several hours to go over the contract and found several items to dispute. So what if the process took a little longer? It was well worth the wait.
‘Always go with the lowest interest rate’
Why you might hear this: A lower interest rate means lower monthly payments. Duh.
Why it’s bad advice: Lower interest rates can have all sorts of strings attached—often in the form of an adjustable-rate mortgage.
ARMs are not always a bad thing, but just be on the alert when someone suggests an interest-only ARM, says Shant Khatchadourian, president of SKR Capital Group. “Interest-only ARMs can result in significant payment shock, especially if rates increase down the line and amortization kicks in.”
In the past, as interest rates were dropping and home values were rising rapidly, interest-only ARMs worked well for some people—especially those who didn’t plan to stay in the home beyond the length of the loan’s first term. But although interest rates are low, they’re likely to rise soon, so beware.
‘Borrow as much as you’re approved for, even if you don’t need it’
Why you might hear this: Who doesn’t want a bigger and better house? Besides, a bank wouldn’t approve you for all that money unless you could afford to pay it back, right? Right?
Why it’s bad advice: It’s always wise to live slightly below your means, since you never know when life might pitch you a financial curveball, such as a layoff or medical problem.“You can qualify for monthly payments up to 50% of your income these days,” says Khatchadourian. “But half of your gross income seems like quite a bit for most people, especially when they factor in taxes and insurance.”
So be sure to make a budget, decide what monthly payment you’re comfortable with, and stick to it.
5 common errors when buying short-sale homes
ORLANDO, Fla. – Oct. 24, 2016 – A foreclosure or short-sale home might tempt a buyer with the promise of a great deal, but it’s important for buyers to avoid common mistakes.
A short sale occurs when a homeowner sells a house for less than the amount owed on the mortgage, so the lender doesn’t get all its money back. Many homeowners facing foreclosure – a common precursor to a short sale– don’t want to leave their homes, and some take their anger out on the home or completely ignore structural and safety issues that should be addressed immediately.
Typical buyer short-sale problems
1. Ignoring the obvious
The house is in a great part of town with good schools, and the price is significantly lower than anything else nearby. Some buyers want to live there so much that they ignore the little things – like the kitchen floor that gives a bit and they don’t want to entertain the idea that it might be termite damage.
2. Skipping a home inspection
Buyers should be part of the home inspection. “Most of what we do is education,” says Kathleen Kuhn, president of inspection firm HouseMaster. She says buyers should ask how much a problem would cost to fix, or make a note of the problem and find out later. “Every homeowner underestimates how much renovation costs,” says Kuhn.
3. Ignoring legal and insurance information
Have all renovations been permitted and approved? Is the home in a flood plain? In a short sale, the home’s current owners may hold back a bit on doling out information.
4. Assuming it won’t take long
A short sale usually takes longer than a normal home sale transaction, and sometimes a lot longer. In some cases it takes a bank time to decide; in many cases, employees have a lot to get done, and that one short sale could sit in their to-do box for a while.
5. Falling in love
“Think of yourself as an investor,” says Jim Randel, real estate investor and author of “The Skinny on the Housing Crisis.” Don’t let emotions override logic. How much could you earn monthly if you rented out the property? How much will it cost to rehabilitate the home? Many buyers love a house when they buy it, but their emotions change later after they’ve put $40,000 into repairs.
Get ready to hurry up and wait, home buyers! Even if you’ve found your dream home, made an offer that’s been accepted, and passed that critical home inspection hurdle, there’s something major happening in the housing industry that, oh so quietly, could grind the last mile of your home-buying marathon to a screeching halt.
The culprit: a home appraiser shortage. A big one, in fact.
Odds are, you’ve never given home appraisers a second thought, assuming you even know what they do. But here’s the deal: When you go for a mortgage, this is the pro that your lender hires to check out the property, making sure it’s a good investment (because, of course, it’s their money on the line, too).
As it turns out these days, there just aren’t enough qualified home appraisers to go around, and it’s causing delays among home buyers eager to close their deals.
According to a new study by Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance, the percentage of on-time closings has dropped over the past six months, from 77% in April to 64% today. Appraisal-related holdups jumped 50% in this time period, so it’s quite clear they’re the bottleneck.
Experts say this shortage dates to 2008. In the wake of the housing crisis, the Federal Housing Administration tightened regulations around home appraisals in an effort to protect banks and home buyers. It upgraded the talent pool, but significantly shrank it at the same time.
Before that point, licensed home appraisers could send an apprentice studying under them to head out and handle the on-site inspection of the house in question. But after 2008, the FHA said no mas—the licensed appraiser has to make the house call, too.
Home appraisers, seeing that their apprentices weren’t saving them much legwork, cut ’em loose. With fewer home appraisers-to-be in the pipeline, the number of professionals in this workforce has shrunk by 22% since 2007, according to the Appraisal Institute.
And the current batch of practicing home appraisers is aging, with over 60% past the age of 50, and creeping closer to retirement every day.
Should home buyers panic?
For home buyers, this home appraiser shortage doesn’t just try their patience. It could stress their pocketbooks, too.
Since they typically “lock in” their mortgage interest rate for a certain time period, an appraisal holdup could push them past that expiration date, forcing them to renegotiate at a higher interest rate (because yes, they are rising now).
Even worse, in hot markets where a home’s market value can change in a matter of a couple of months, an appraisal delay could mean the appraised value of a home could come in much lower (or higher) than back when the offer was first made—which could cause the whole deal to fall through completely.
Given that the stakes are so high, what’s a home buyer frothing at the mouth to close sometime this decade supposed to do?
For one, there’s less of a chance of succumbing to the home-closing equivalent of road rage if you’re braced for gridlock ahead. So ask your real estate agent and loan officer if they anticipate delays and plan accordingly.
“The Realtors® and loan officers know if their market is one that is experiencing the severe appraisal delays; not all markets are,” says Tal Frank, president of PhysicianLoans.com. But if your market has an appraisal backlog, “you should expect the appraisal to be delayed and therefore the closing to take two to four weeks longer. If there is proper communication and expectations upfront, home buyers and home sellers should not end up in a panicked state.
“Rather than closing in 30 days, it may take 60,” he adds. “Not awful if everyone knows this at the start of the transaction.”
Home buyers in affected markets should also lock in their interest rate for longer.
“Some companies offer a standard 30-day lock, but the 60-day lock is advisable in the affected markets,” Frank continues. “If the buyer is working with a lender that offers 30-day locks as standard, the buyer can either wait to lock or pay the lender a fee upfront to extend the lock period.”
But what if you’re already knee-deep in the process and can’t turn back time? Consider paying a “rush fee”—at least 20% on top of the usual cost, perhaps more depending on your market. You can also try appealing to a home appraiser directly.
“Most appraisers are self-employed, so they aren’t constrained by bureaucratic rules and procedures. This means they can bump your appraisal up their priority list if you can convince them to do so,” points out Brian Davis, a real estate investor and co-founder of SparkRental.com. “Often, a simple phone call explaining the urgency of the situation might suffice.”
Because after all, Davis points out, while they may be in short supply, “Appraisers are people, and many are willing to work an extra couple hours one evening in order to help you settle on your new home.”
As always, should you have any questions regarding any of thQuestion: I am buying a condominium and have heard there is mandatory seller disclosure. Can you explain?
Answer: Florida’s legislature apparently believes condominium buyers require special attention. The legislature confirms that position through Section 718.503, Florida Statutes. That statute addresses developer disclosure, non-developer disclosure and even creates a right of voidability for condominium buyers.
Mandatory developer disclosure is far more extensive than the disclosure required by a non-developer seller. A buyer from a developer is granted 15 days from the date the developer supplies all of the mandated documents to review and determine if the buyer wants to cancel the contract. A buyer from a developer can even extend the closing until end of the 15-day period. The buyer can cancel the contract within the 15-day review period and obtain refund of any deposit.
Most developers are familiar with and follow the statutory notice requirements. Because they want to know if the buyer will proceed as soon as possible, they go to great length to comply with mandatory disclosure. That means, the real disclosure problems involve sale or resale of condominiums by non-developer owners.
Unlike developer disclosure, the statute does not require automatic provision of documents from non-developer seller to buyer. It provides all prospective purchasers under contract for purchase of a condominium unit are entitled to specific documents at the seller’s expense. That means, a buyer should ask the seller for the documents rather than assume they will be provided.
The statute mandates non-developer sale contracts include disclosure language. That language advises the buyer that after the contract is signed, the buyer has a right to cancel within 3 days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays, after receipt of disclosure documents.The statute lists the disclosure documents as the following:
a. Current copy of Declaration of Condominium;
b. Articles of Incorporation for the condominium association;
c. By-Laws and Rules of the condominium association;
d. Copy of the most recent year-end financial information for the condominium association;
e. Frequently Asked Questions and Answers document (this form is established by statute and summarizes certain important aspects of condominium ownership including explanation of voting rights, unit use restrictions, leasing restrictions, whether the unit or association is obligated to pay rent or land use fees for recreational or other commonly used facilities, a statement identifying the amount of assessments levied against each unit type, explanation of the basis upon which assessments are levied, and list any court cases in which the association may face liability of more than $100,000.00); and;
f. Copy of a Governance Form (this form is 5 pages long and published by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes. It summarizes condominium operations including board meetings, finances and unit owner rights and responsibilities).
The buyer’s right to terminate under either developer or non-developer contract cannot be waived, except that the buyer can close before end of the review period and closing ends the buyer’s right to terminate the contract. If the contract does not have the mandated disclosure language explaining the buyer’s right to documents, the buyer’s right to terminate extends to closing, no matter how far into the future the closing date is set.
Because the non-developer buyer has a 3-day right of rescission from date the buyer receives all of the disclosure documents, it is in a seller’s best interest to be sure those documents are delivered quickly. But, there can be many slips between good intention to collect and deliver those documents and actual result.
Sometimes, the seller will ask a title company to get condominium documents. The title company may then obtain copies of all documents recorded in the Public Records but, those documents will generally be limited to the Declaration, Articles of Incorporation, By-Laws and possibly Rules of the association. The financial information, Frequently Asked Questions and Answers, Governance Form and most Rules will not often be found in the Public Records. If the seller relies on an incomplete set of documents, the buyer’s right to terminate continues to closing.
More experienced sellers may realize they have to go to the condominium association to get a complete package. Even then, mistakes are made. It is not unusual for an association to include a budget rather than a financial statement in the document package it provides. And, only a minority includes a copy of the Governance Form. Either of these omissions stops the 3-day rescission clock from running.
6 Common Buyer Questions for Sellers
Home buyers want to know specifics about the homes that pique their interest. So be proactive and address their questions upfront by finding the answers to some of the following questions from your sellers before you list.
1. How old is the home? When was it last renovated?
2. How old is the roof?
3. What structures or fixtures are included in the list price? For example, is the seller OK with the appliances, ceiling fans, swing set, window treatments, and shed being included in the sale?
Read more: 6 Common Questions From Sellers
4. What are the home’s annual costs for upkeep? Provide estimates for electric, water, gas, trash, pool maintenance, lawn care, homeowners’ association, and any other regular fees associated with the home.
5. How is the home heated or cooled? How old are the units?
6. Are there any outstanding permits or liens on the property?
What are your energy dollars buying you each month? Our interactive house helps you visualize how much money is being spent in each room of your home. View our interactive house for:
- A room-by-room energy guide
- Tips on how to reduce energy usage on certain products
- Ways to cut down your energy costs
Did you know that a leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water per day? Are you aware that compact fluorescent bulbs use up to 75 percent less electricity and last about 10 times longer than regular light bulbs? Learn more useful energy tips in our interactive house.
The do’s and don’ts of service animals
July 4, 2016 — When a buyer turns out to be a cash buyer, that’s usually a plus in a transaction. At least, that’s what one Realtor thought when she started working with a buyer who had just completed a tour in the Army. The buyer had been injured in the line of duty and planned to live in the condo with Sam, his German Shepherd service animal.
The buyer’s offer, accepted by the seller, included a condominium rider that made the agreement contingent on the buyer receiving approval from the condominium association before closing. The buyer submitted an application and included the disclosure that Sam would live with him. The condominium association denied Sam’s application in writing, saying the association did not allow pets larger than 25 pounds. Both the seller and the buyer were upset and asked the Realtor if this was allowable.
The Realtor reminded both the seller and buyer that her real estate training did not extend to legal matters. However, she had recently attended a class in which the instructor stated that denying housing to someone as a result of the presence of a service animal is a violation of the federal Fair Housing laws.
According to federal law, it is discrimination for a landlord or an entity such as a condominium association to refuse “to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.”
The buyer retained an attorney, who asked the condominium association to reconsider its decision based on the Fair Housing laws. The association agreed, but only if the buyer agreed to pay a large pet deposit to cover any impact the large dog might have on the premises. The attorney reminded the condominium association that under Fair Housing laws, a housing provider cannot require service animals to have any specific training, apply a blanket weight or breed restriction, require pet insurance or charge a pet deposit. The condominium association reconsidered and the buyer purchased the unit.
If you are ever involved in a situation like this, remember that while you are not a housing provider, if you represent one and intentionally participate in unlawful discrimination, you are also liable under the Fair Housing laws. If landlords ask you about exceptions to this law, refer them to an attorney.
For more information on service animals and the specific statute reference, please visit “Accommodations for Service Animals in Housing” on NAR’s website.